Dear Mr. Bennett,
I would like to share with you an amazing experience I had during Succot. My eldest daughter is on שליחות in Antwerp, Belgium. We visited them during Succot and were astounded by everyone's fluency and multilingualism. People switch with ease between English, French and Flemish. The Jews, of course, know Hebrew and the Chassidim know Yiddish as well, so that the average Belgian Jew speaks at least 4 or 5 languages fluently!
When we asked for directions in the street, young teens would confidently answer us in flawless English! If they couldn't help us in one language they would switch effortlessly until they found our common language.
While the children are taught French only in 5th grade and English in 7th, most people are fluent in the local Flemish, English and French by the time they are 5 years old! How is it possible?!
First and foremost, the attitude and the exposure in Belgium is one of multilingualism. The TV is not dubbed – the channels are all in English. Often parents and relatives speak another language at home besides the local Flemish. Children in the Jewish schools have 2.5 hours of Judaic/Hebrew studies a day. Thus, children in preschool have a mere 2.5 hours of exposure to Hebrew, but it is every day. Quickly they become proficient in yet another language. The language teachers explained that by the time the children reach 5th and 7th grade, the children already know French and English. It is just a matter of filling in the gaps.
Dear Mr. Bennett, why cannot we do that here too? The preschools could have 2.5 daily hours out of 7 in English so that by the time they reach first grade we would only need to teach them how to read and write! Better yet, encourage a culture of multilingualism and have children exposed to Arabic as well. If all of Israel's children would be fluent in the three languages of Hebrew, Arabic and English, our future could be much brighter.
Hoping for a change,