First Word--May 2004

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Seems apropos that I was in Bologna, Italy, for the Children's Book Fair while writing this month's cover story. Although I am an "American," I am of Italian/Irish descent and fortunate to read, write, and speak Italian. I've been applauded (by international clients, for sure) for being a bilingual "American." I find it stereotyping, as, indeed, many of us in this industry alone speak other languages beyond English.

But I don't like Italian forced upon me, particularly since it is not my first language. Considering I do not speak Italian often, I find myself self-conscious of usage: Is that the correct tense? Did I just use dialect, slang, or school-learned Roman Italian? Like many who studied foreign languages in school, you passed the tests and then passed on speaking the language again. At that age, you don't necessarily consider certain schoolroom subjects useful. But as many of us have learned as we visit countries outside the U.S. and other English-speaking territories, knowledge of a foreign language can aid in merely obtaining directions or relaxing business negotiations, as so many of today's companies are global and multinational.

The phrase, "When in Rome," applies in the U.S. and English-speaking territories and, naturally, vice versa.

Scholastic Entertainment's Maya & Miguel has clear educational goals in mind: While you should always respect the culture into which you were born, there will be a need to adapt to the culture in which you now may be engrossed. Speaking any foreign language is a difficult feat, as the difficulty in learning and understanding usage and your native accent often can impede your spirit. Let's face it, children are often unkind...poking fun at other cultures unfortunately is a mainstay in school systems and on playgrounds across America (and, I'm certain, international territories outside the U.S.). I doubt that will ever change as children will be children.

Maya & Miguel aims to aid children ages 6 to 11 in learning a new language. For example, Paco the parrot repeats statements. Repetition is necessary in any learning environment. At the same time, the show will allow Maya & Miguel to live within their own Latin American culture with family and friends, while utilizing their native tongue and the English language. Also, Maya & Miguel incorporates characters from other ethnicities, creating a melting pot effect.

Certainly not the creators' initial intent for Maya & Miguel, but understanding the cultural differences of others is ever so timely, as our world remains embittered and embattled in what seems a war of differences. The future of family traditions and business successes, regardless of cultural heritage, lies in the hands of generations to come. The entertainment industry has and always will have a major impact on children's lives.

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