Increasing our Children’s Multilingual and Multicultural Literacy in the 21st Century
Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, F-ASHA
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
California State University, Sacramento
Today, over half the world speaks at least two languages. In the U.S., the number of foreign-born persons has more than quadrupled since 1965. This number is expected to reach 78 million by the year 2065 (Pew Research Center, 2019). It is crucial to help our children increase their multilingual and multicultural literacy so that they can live and work successfully in our increasingly pluralistic society.
Benefits of Bilingualism
We all have children in our lives: our own children, nieces, nephews, children on our professional caseloads. A lifelong gift we can give our children is to help them become fluent bilinguals, because in today’s global economy, bilingualism is a great asset (Roseberry-McKibbin, 2018a; 2018b). Today in the U.S., the most highly-desired languages in the workplace are Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. In the U.S., between the years 2012-2017, the demand for bilingual workers more than doubled. In 2015, more than 1/3 of the positions advertised by Bank of America asked for bilingual workers. Bilingualism has multiple cognitive and linguistic benefits that last into old age—including postponement of dementia!
Exposing our Children to Cultural and Ethnic Diversity
We can encourage our children to befriend others who are diverse. As SLPs, we can make sure our therapy rooms represent diversity with multicultural bulletin boards and bilingual books. Even if we can’t read the other languages ourselves, we can at least show the books to our children and talk about how the languages differ from English. We can develop thematic units built around such themes as Black History Month, Chinese New Year, and others. We can expose our students to role models from their own ethnic backgrounds.
Increasing our Children’s Intergenerational Competence
Statistics indicate that in the U.S., many children and teens are mostly exposed to same-age peers. While this is normal, it is imperative to expose our children and teens to those who are younger and older—to help them develop intergenerational competence. Many Baby Boomers are working into their 60s and 70s. It is possible that in the workplace, four generations may be working under one roof: Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Generation Z. Our children and teens must grow into adults who can capably relate to and work successfully with persons of a variety of ages.
Increasing our Children’s Exposure to Religious Diversity
Our children need to understand basics of major religions. For example, Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world; it is projected that at the end of this century, they may outnumber Christians in the U.S. (Pew Research Center Fact Tank, 2017). Our children should understand the basics of Islam, as chances are very high that they will have Muslim co-workers. For example, during the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. They will not be going to lunch with co-workers during this time. They don’t drink alcohol; thus, no happy hour after work!
Increasing our Children’s Exposure to Socioeconomic Diversity
Unfortunately, in our society, we have growing numbers of persons experiencing homelessness—including children on our caseloads as SLPs. Our children need to learn how to relate with compassion to these individuals. We can encourage our children to donate items that they are no longer using, and to volunteer in places like soup kitchens which serve the homeless community.
Summary and Conclusion
In today’s increasingly diverse world, we need to help the children in our lives increase their multilingual and multicultural literacy. In doing so, we give them a lifetime gift: the ability to relate to and work successfully alongside diverse co-workers to serve our ever growing and changing world.
Pew Research Center Fact Tank (2017). Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world. http://www.pewresearch.or/fact-tank/2017
Pew Research Center (2019). Meet the new immigrants: Asians take over Hispanics. http://www.pew-social-trends.org/asian-americans/graphics
Roseberry-McKibbin, C. (2018a). Love, talk, read to help your child succeed. Carlsbad, CA: Crescendo Publishing.
Roseberry-McKibbin, C. (2018b). Multicultural children with special language needs: Practical strategies for assessment and intervention (5th ed.). Oceanside, CA: Academic Communication Associates.