The United States has many great ideals, freedoms, and programs, however there is one aspect to our education system that instills a sense of disrespect in our society. This aspect is our foreign language education.
In a significant number of public elementary and middle (junior high) schools in the United States, language classes are not taught. This is extremely counter-intuitive because by the time adolescents have graduated from junior high (around age twelve to thirteen), studies agree that a language cannot be fully acquired in the same manner.
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not put an emphasis on foreign language learning. High school students are required to take two years of a foreign language to meet most university requirements
At Foothill Technology High School, I often hear classmates complaining about being “forced” to take a foreign language. This sentiment is not shared worldwide. In most other places it simply isn’t an option to not be well versed in commonly spoken languages.
The attitude is largely due to the entitlement of many Americans. When traveling to a foreign country, some don’t find it necessary to learn the language native to the country they are visiting. In most big European cities, the signs are translated into English and many citizens speak English. Traveling Americans don’t find it necessary to make an effort to adapt to other cultures.
Entitlement stems from the hypocrisy associated with foreign languages. Americans will not learn other nations’ languages, but they expect other nations to learn theirs. When tourists come to the United States, if they do not make an attempt to speak English they are scorned and ridiculed. It is incomprehensible to many
Americans that a person wouldn’t speak English if they are living in America.
In the majority of the United States, road signs are not translated into any other language. There are two reasons for this. It would be difficult to decide which language to put on signs in addition to English because America is so diverse. More importantly though, it is because people traveling to the U.S. from foreign countries do not expect Americans to “go out of their way” to accommodate them.
These views that are built into our society prohibit a focus on language learning in the United States. Public schools may be forced to choose between funding for languages or sports. The school will choose the thing that is currently valued more, which never seems to be foreign language.
Globalization is happening very quickly, and the United States is refusing to follow the lead of other countries when it comes to languages. Language is coined an “elective,” a class that one should take for fun. Learning a language should be interesting and fun, however it should also be taken seriously. Foreign Language should be considered a “core class,” one that is necessary for a person to be well rounded.
To solve this problem, there needs to be a social shift. There needs to be a change in the way Americans view themselves in relation to other countries. The United States is a world power, but it can no longer be separate. Americans need to think of the United States as part of the world, not solely themselves.
The United States is not at the top in many areas having to do with education, but introducing a better standard for foreign language education should be our first priority. It is an important step we need to take to incorporate ourselves with the rest of the world.
Learning a foreign language helps us globally but also individually, as they can change the way a person’s brain works. Americans need to push themselves and future generations to incorporate themselves into the global community. Fixing the stigmas around foreign language is significant step to fixing entitlement issues in the United States.