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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 14 u Chapter 2 sounds meaning. Then they must decide how to respond. These decisions need to happen quickly. Exercising these skills over and over makes the brain nimble. Here is an example showing how bilingualism plays out in an early childhood classroom: Five-year-old Marysol enters the kindergarten classroom. She is talking to her dad in Spanish. Her teacher comes over and greets her in English. Marysol smiles and says, “Hey! I am saying good-bye to my dad in Spanish, and hello to you in English!” Then she skips away to join her friends at the puzzle table. This is a normal situa- tion for her, but she understands what she’s doing. She can distinguish her two languages, and she thinks that’s cool. Marysol is so aware because her family and her teacher talk directly with her about learning different languages. If bilingual people use both languages regularly, their brains get a lot of exercise. This exercise improves problem solving, phonological aware- ness, and metalinguistic awareness (Genesee 2007). Metalinguistic awareness is the ability to think about language as a process. Bilingualism also has sociocultural benefits (DeBruin-Parecki and Timion 1999). It can improve understanding of cultures and the similari- ties and differences among and between cultures. Language is a communication tool specific to the culture of a group. A culture has the words it needs for everyday life. Its vocabulary reflects the local geography, climate, foods, and behaviors. For example, it snows a lot in northern Scandinavia. The Sami people who live there have hundreds of different words to describe all the variations of snow they encounter. Another example: European cultures generally dictate that people address one another differently depending on familiarity and social status. So most European languages have formal and informal ver- sions of the word you. A French adult, for instance, says “tu” to a child or close friend and “vous” to an elder or acquaintance. Children learn the nuances of language through listening, observing, and experimenting. When bilingual children have repeated experiences in both languages, they improve not only their language skills but also their understanding of the behaviors that go with the languages. They develop keen awareness of cultural cues. Finally, bilingualism offers economic advantages. Immigrants who speak and write English fluently have access to better jobs in the United States (Minnesota Literacy Council, accessed 2012). English is the COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL