What is empathy? Why is it so important for our children to have? What does it have to do with learning Spanish?
A language is a door to a culture. When we learn a new language, we come into contact with the particularities of the cultures which speak the language. We discover how we are unique and also how we are similar! When we expose our children to a new language we are exposing them to different ways of thinking, acting and going about life! Therefore helping them put themselves in others' shoes. This cultural exchange that inevitably takes place is one of the most powerful things about learning a second language.
A language shapes how we understand the world, how we behave and connect with each other, how we build healthy human relationships, and how empathetic we are. But what is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else's feelings and understand their experiences. To put ouselves in someone else's shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. It is an ability, therefore it can, and must be developed.
Having empathy increases the likelihood of helping others and showing compassion. "Empathy is a building block of morality- for people to follow the Golden Rule, it helps if they can put themselves in someone else's shoes," according to the Greater Good Science Center, a research institute that studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being. "It is also a key ingredient of successful relationships because it helps us understand the perspectives, needs and intentions of others." (Resource: https://lesley.edu/article/the-psychology-of-emotional-and-cognitive-empathy)
So how does learning a language teach our children empathy? When children are learning a second language, they may stumble along the way or struggle to express themselves. It teaches them humility, patience and empathy. If our children understand what it is like to be in an unfamiliar situation, it may help them to be more kind and understanding towards the new student in their class that just moved from another county and is struggling to learn English, fit into a new culture and make friends.
Language is a system for a community to communicate with each other. This system consists of sounds, words and grammar to use in writing or speaking. Language is the basis of a culture that characterizes and differentiates one frrom another. It is one of the most important characteristics that defines a culture. It tells us about who we are, how we understand the world, how we behave and connect with each other, and how we build healthy human relationships.
Accepting that differences exist, it is essential to educate our children to consider, respect and even celebrate those differences. Learning a second language, especially at an early age, allows us to develop the ability to identify and welcome cultural differences in a natural way, without prejudice and discrimination. It helps kids to understand that while we may have differences, we are all humans and deserving of respect and kindness. Something that as parents we all want for our children.
In this world made up of so many diverse cultures, tolerance and respect will allow us to live in harmony with each other.