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Family Matters

The Dual Language Dilemma

By Anu Varma Panchal

With 22 official languages and hundreds more unofficial languages and dialects, India is rich in linguistic diversity. Many Indians are fluent in two or three languages and adept at switching between tongues as they chat with their teacher, grandmother or taxi driver. As for our American born children, many admirably maintain fluency in their mother tongue, thanks to the constant soundtrack of chatter between parents.

But what about the offspring of all the Two–States/Chennai Express couples out there, the couples who leaped in growing numbers over the linguistic divide into matrimony?

When my husband (Gujarati) and I (Malayali) tied the knot right out of college, children were the last thing on our mind, much less their future language choices. Fast forward 14 years, and I’ve become “amma” and my husband “daddy” to our very own 9 and 6-year-old double hybrids. When they were infants, it came naturally to me to speak to them in Malayalam; English didn’t cut it for maternal endearments. As they grew older, endearments were often replaced by blood curdling threats—and these too sounded infinitely more satisfying in our own languages (plus you can safely say them in public with no one the wiser about why your child has suddenly quailed). The lexicon of food in our house also has somewhat stayed faithful to our roots. However, as school and the outside world intervened more and more in our children’s lives, it just became easier to stick to English, mostly because otherwise, one of us would feel excluded from the conversation. There’s so little family time in our chaotic lives that it seems easier to say things once in English rather than keep explaining and translating.

However, what of the nuances of humor, degrees of affection and intricacies of emotion we best express in our mother tongue? Not sharing that with our own children feels like a sort of loss. Besides, it turns out that keeping our family multilingual may even lead to better school grades, and which Indian parent can resist that?

“Learning more than one language has huge cognitive, social and cultural benefits,” explains Dr. Amy Thompson, associate professor of applied linguistics at University of South Florida. Going from bilingual to multilingual is not only possible, it actually gets easier to add languages. “My research only shows that by having more than one language in your language repertoire, you figure out how to learn language, how to view the world in different ways.

Thompson says learning many languages has been linked to higher academic performance in children and even slowed down the progression of cognitive illnesses in older people. Strategies to maintain a multilingual household could include roping in a grandparent for regular conversations, particularly if a grandparent cannot speak English. Have each parent speak consistently to the child in his or her own language one-on-one, but use English in situations such as at the dinner table, where the family is together. Keep speaking, even if it looks like the child responds only in English. It’s all being stored inside, and will click eventually. Constant exposure is key, and simultaneous exposure will not confuse them, Thompson assures.

“It takes determination on the part of the parent, but it’s never too late to start,” says Thompson.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

The Bridge to College

The Junior Year and the SAT/ACT

By Robert A.G. LeVine

When it comes to preparing for the college admissions process, the junior year of high school is largely devoted to working on the standardized tests: the SAT and the ACT.

Most colleges require that students submit at least one standardized test score, but they do not require that students take both tests. There are differences between the SAT and ACT: the SAT emphasizes vocabulary, while the ACT includes science. Some students like one test better than the other. A good way to decide which test you prefer is to take online practice tests. Be aware, however, that practice tests offered by the test companies can be deceptively easy because the companies want you to like, and thus buy, their tests.

Despite what the test companies say, the SAT and the ACT are both “logic” tests which test not only what is learned in school, but also the student’s ability to answer questions as posed. In this regard, they are much like IQ tests, or even the quizzes one might find in the back of an airline magazine. Therefore, students should recognize that these tests require a special skill set. Preparation and practice are important.

If it is economically feasible, students should work with tutors for test preparation. Although it is possible to study on your own, it is usually better to have someone provide strategies that are not readily available in print or online. Classroom studying is helpful, but a class moves at the pace of the class, not at an individual student’s pace. Moreover, instructors of test-prep classes are seldom career test tutors. They are usually graduate students and school teachers looking to make extra money, and thus their knowledge is not as deep as those who spend their lives tutoring. Even with private tutors, however, students must study independently. As a general rule, students should practice at least 3 hours for every 1 hour spent with a tutor or in class.

When should a student take the SAT or ACT? When there is time to study. For most juniors, this means that the tests administered from January through April offer the best opportunity for good preparation because school exams are not pressing at that time. However, each student’s individual schedule should determine the timing of testing. If it’s a busy season in a student’s sport or in other activities, consider a different test date. Although a student can take the SAT or ACT in the fall of the senior year, we advise that the tests be taken as a junior; senior testing should be a last resort.

Most students take the SAT and/or ACT multiple times because most colleges consider only the student’s highest score. For the SAT, colleges often “superscore” the results, meaning that they consider only the highest result in each of the tested areas, regardless of when the tests were taken. Although a few colleges will superscore the ACT, the vast majority do not. Note, however, that some highly selective colleges require that students report all of their SAT and ACT results, so be careful of the strategy of endless retakes to “get lucky” with a single score; it might backfire.

Many private colleges and selective public universities also require “subject” tests, administered by the same company that offers the SAT. Unlike the SAT and ACT, subject tests are more content-based, like AP exams. Students select the subject areas that they wish to take (although some colleges will have requirements that certain tests be taken). We advise that students take these tests in June, just after they have finished a course in school on the subject matter. Do not wait until October to take a test on material that you haven’t studied for months.

The standardized tests are vitally important to a student’s chances of admission. However, if a student simply cannot perform well on the SAT or ACT, note that many colleges now have “test optional” policies.

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