Earlier Foreign Language Studies Needed


Arjun Chhabra, Staff Writer

Are you a polyglot?  If so, then you are the minority in the United States.

Unlike other European countries, the United States has no national requirement for students to learn a foreign language,

 Campolindo offers Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin as electives. My own experience studying Spanish has included the development of language skills as well as an appreciating for the cultures of various Spanish-speaking countries.

In October, I learned about the Day of the Dead in my Spanish class.  It is just 1 example of the unique opportunities world-language studies offers.

Unfortunately, according to a 2006 General Social survey, only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, of which only 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with just 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

Districts do vary in their requirements; The Acalanes Union High School District recently raised requirements to 2 years for Language or Career Technical Education. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, high schools do usually offer foreign language classes, but only a small percentage of 15% of American elementary schools do the same.

Why the difference? This is likely because English is considered a global language– the 2 countries that do not mandate foreign language in Europe have English as their first language: Ireland and Scotland.

So, why do we care? Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 

bilingualism promotes broader intellectual growth; many studies have explored the IQ of students that are monolingual and multilingual. All else equal (including socioeconomic status), studies show an improvement in memory, problem solving, critical thinking and multi-tasking when people learn additional languages.

Multi-language fluency is also an asset for people in the work force.  In an increasingly global business economy, knowing another language allows for direct communication with a clients, business partners, and international colleagues.

Language learning should begin earlier in American schools, and should continue into college.