Should schools focus more on foreign languages?
March 8, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
With increasing awareness of our interconnected world, there is a call for more Americans to become fluent in a language other than English. But because of tight budgets, foreign-language requirements are going by the wayside in schools.
Only 10 percent of native-born Americans can speak a language other than English, according to an analysis of 2010 census figures. When immigrants were included, the percentage increased to 20.1 percent.
The U.S. lags behind nearly every other industrialized or rapidly developing nation in language instruction. In Europe, 53 percent of the students have mastered a second language, often English, while in the United States, the percentage is 18 percent. Many of those students have mastered the language through family and not in school.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he believed learning a second language was important. “To prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries,” Duncan said in 2010, “Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages.”
The percentage of public and private elementary schools that offer foreign language courses has decreased from 31 percent to 25 percent from 1997 to 2008, and in middle schools, the drop has been even more drastic, 75 percent to 58 percent. The percentage for high schools remained about the same at 91 percent, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.
At the college level, 51 percent of colleges and universities have a foreign-language requirement for graduation.
Studies show that fluency in a second language has many benefits, especially in our globalizing world.
Mastering a foreign language can open up the world to students, giving them an advantage when they apply for college or for jobs. People who have mastered a second language tend to earn more and have access to better jobs. As companies, nonprofits and the government begin to look at markets abroad, knowledge of the language and the culture helps job seekers stand out, making fluency of a second language a marketable tool in the job search.
The Global Language Project, a New York based nonprofit, says that mastery of a foreign language is what can set a lower-income student who couldn’t afford access to the best education above that of their more schooled peers.
The lack of Americans fluent in a second language also affects national security.
In 2012, the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing that declared a “national security crisis” because of the deficit of Americans fluent in less commonly taught languages that are important for U.S. strategic and economic interests, such as Farsi, Urdu, Pashtun and Mandarin. In global politics and in conflict, knowledge of the other languages is an advantage. The U.S. military is often scrambling to find bilingual recruits, and training officers and the enlisted personnel in another language.
What do you think?
Should there be a greater emphasis on foreign languages in high schools? How important is it to learn a foreign language? Would knowing a second language help you in your post-high school plans? Would more bilingual Americans benefit the U.S. economically and militarily? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
Join the Discussion