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Salon on Children Interpreters

Salon has an article on children interpreters. Seems this phenomenon is
a very tricky thing to handle properly. An interpreter holds quite
a bit of responsibility in relaying information between two parties.
A child, while loyal to their family, is still a child. At least that is
what the Salon author thinks. So depending on the upbringing and ethics
of the child they could wield this power to really help or really take

What do I think? I’m not sure. The U.S. has so many immigrants from
many places that the number of languages is huge. (300 according to the
article). The simple answer is provide translations for everyone. But
ever try managing 300 languages at once? That is a lot of translations!
This leaves room for the English-only groups of the
U.S. to strut their stuff *sigh*. Personally, I think it would be great if
more of these native speakers could be channeled into bilingual language
learning programs for the community (especially schools) but it’s a tricky

I do feel bad for the parents and think the child as an interpreter is a
great boon. Personally, I would not like to rely on my children to
do things that I would consider skills that an adult would need to manage
in a society. For example, if you placed an American in China that
had no family ties with China at all and no Chinese abilities at all
my expectation would be for the Americna to try to pick up as much Chinese
as one could possibly manage since well… the language of life there
is Chinese. To be able to function properly in the society you have
to really be able to use Chinese. This example could be applied to
more than just an American in China. But I think that explains my
viewpoint on it.

My observation on linguistic fluency of the US (barring big cities where the
rules are a bit different) is that usually
multilingual folks get most of their multilingualism through their family.
And in the break-neck paced society that the U.S. you either speak
like a native or you’re mostly useless. This puts those people with
some sort of ethnic ties to a particular language at a huge advantage
in multi-lingual roles versus someone else who has been studying the
language as an adult. The adult learner needs to expend A LOT of effort
to get anywhere near that fluent level to be able to compete in the market
place. This probably is one small contributing factor to why Americans
don’t flex much multilingual skills at all outside of the ones who have
some sort of family upbringing or are just language geeks and are willing
to put up with this disadvantage and try to overcome it as quickly as possible.

Read the Salon article

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