The Czech proverb, “As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being,” embodies the core purpose of addalingua: to inspire global empathy through education. Not just any education, however, we mean the kind that intentionally grows what is unique to humans. According to the author of The Gap: The science of what separates us from other animals, the mind, the space where we imagine, think, and feel is what distinguishes us from other living things. But, what makes us human is not something we can touch, smell or see. It is difficult to know what is going on in someone’s mind and feel empathy without a key ingredient – language.
Because language is the most important tool through which we share and connect with one another, we design addalingua programs to multiply the number of languages students know in order to multiply the number of opportunities they have to experience “being human.” We then seek out partnerships with schools demonstrating their belief in the dignity of ALL students – of every ethnicity, race, culture, language, cognitive capacity, and socioeconomic status. These committed partner schools, equipped with our design and support, build addalingua programs that deliver on three goals: grade-level biliteracy skills, cultural competency, and academic achievement.
In 2009,we had the idea of inspiring global empathy through education, focused on student attainment of these goals. By founding addalingua, we converted that idea into action. Starting with one partner school in one state, we launched our first addalingua program with sixty students learning Spanish and English. By our tenth year, we had grown from one partner school in one state to twenty-six partner schools in nine states. While grateful for this growth, we recognize that it represents a mere toe step toward our vision of a U.S. education system characterized by teaching and learning in two or more languages.
What compels us forward from steps to strides are the stories we hear from our partner schools. From one school we heard that first-grade Matthew connected with a Peruvian grandmother on their long flight from South America to New York, proudly escorting her to the baggage claim upon landing and insisting his family wait with her until her family arrived. Since that day, Matthew and she have corresponded, becoming faithful, though unlikely, penpals. From another school, we learned that third-grade Lourdes researched and wrote an essay on the growing number of child immigrants held in U.S. custody that resulted in her school community raising nearly $10,000 to support a non-profit children’s advocacy group. These stories, and so many more, underscore the purpose of our work.
So, boldly we continue until addalingua’s movement – from one state to several, from thousands of students to hundreds of thousands – becomes a social movement. And in becoming a social movement, shifts U.S. education to make learning in two languages the norm rather than the exception, expanding student capacity to empathize across languages and cultures. By experiencing the power of global empathy in our students, perhaps ultimately, we remind ourselves that connecting to and understanding one another, especially those who are most different from us, is what being human is all about.