Our Voice: Dual-language programs give us reason to learn

When someone learns to speak another language, they are learning more than how to conjugate verbs. Speaking a foreign tongue usually includes learning about another people's customs and culture.

It goes a long way toward understanding each other -- well beyond what you can get from popular online translators like Google translate or BabelFish. And it's not especially expensive.

The dual-language programs offered through the Pasco and Kennewick school districts are good examples of totally emersing kids in the language -- and culture -- of their peers.

These programs take equal numbers of English speakers and Spanish speakers, put them in the same classroom and start teaching.

They don't necessarily teach the kids to speak Spanish or English. They just teach them -- math, science, reading -- and it happens to be in Spanish and English.

The first few years might be confusing, but the longer the kids are in the program, the more fluent they become.

By the time they hit high school, kids who come from English-speaking homes often have a better command of Spanish than kids who grow up in Spanish-speaking homes.

And it works the other way as well.

Pasco's program has just hit its 10th anniversary, and Kennewick is not far behind.

It's an impressive model. There has even been talk of a language magnet school in the Richland district.

But of course, we're talking about kids, so it's easier for them to learn a language, right?

Well, maybe, but that doesn't mean adults wouldn't benefit from the exercise.

Learning another language, at any age, is good for the mind. It's easier to learn a language when you're young, but it also is valuable to convince your mind to learn something new in your later years.

Learning a second language staves off dementia, boosts memory and keeps your brain active.

So from a totally selfish standpoint, we all should be learning a language.

No doubt, students enrolled in the dual-language programs are learning a valuable and marketable skill when it comes to being bilingual and biliterate.

Perhaps more importantly, though, they are learning to appreciate each other's culture.

If, as adults, we learned about other people's customs and cultures, in addition to the personal benefit of learning a language, there would be less hate and fear in the world -- and even in the Mid-Columbia.

Many of a community's misunderstandings come from a lack of understanding or an unwillingness to try to understand.

It's easier to hate someone we don't know. And it's hard to want to get to know someone we already dislike.

The language barrier is only a brick in the wall that divides cultures. There are so many reasons to tear down that wall. Tri-City schools are finding a way.