This afternoon I pushed my five-year-old niece Holland up to the elementary school in a stroller. With the temperature at 88 degrees, we were both red-cheeked and dripping in sweat before we made it home. At only one point did we pass under a refreshing stretch of trees, and here Holland tilted her face up to me and sighed with relief. “Is there such a thing as shade bathing?” she wondered aloud.

When you are sweating into your own eyes, shade bathing sounds divine. I marveled at her terminology. Holland’s an extremely quiet child who rarely speaks at all, but when she does talk her words are like tiny verbal paintings. Compact, pretty, and multi-layered.

Back when she was four she tapped me lightly on the shoulder after not speaking the entire day, and whispered, “Auntie, do you speak butterfly?”  Sadly I told her no, I only spoke English. She nodded in understanding and spent the rest of the day mute.  

I wish I could speak a language other than English. I desperately wish my children were exposed to more of the world’s words. I think they will be at a huge disadvantage in the near future. In most industrial nations children are formally taught at least two languages now. In Europe they routinely teach school children three or four languages concurrently. Very few American public schools offer any foreign language instruction until middle school or even high school. And then our students are offered the powerhouse languages of fifty years ago –  French, German, and Spanish. This is a serious case of too little, too late.

If we want to stay globally fit and competitive, we are going to need citizens who can speak Chinese and Arabic and everything in between. We will need scientists and statisticians who can, indeed, speak butterfly. Or at least keep track of how quickly we’re killing them off.

One such statistician, Hans Rosling, has a remarkable video on YouTube that uses statistics to show 200 years of global growth in four minutes. The conclusion to be drawn is that, like it or not, we’re all in this race together. And with the world warming and growing more inter-connected, we’re going to be shade bathing side-by-side very soon. Now it’s just a matter of which language we’ll use to scream, “Scoot over!”