If you’re a born and bred Yankee, chances are you can’t speak a different language. Most of us know a few basic words and phrases, but when it comes to having a real conversation…well, that’s questionable.
It’s not that other languages aren’t offered at our schools; there are plenty, especially at the college level. The problem starts in grade school, where there is little emphasis on foreign language education.
My elementary school’s idea of a foreign language class consisted of watching The Lion King in Spanish every day. Seriously?
I can’t speak for our entire country, but in Oklahoma foreign languages are not even required to graduate high school. Unless you want a Certificate of Distinction when you walk across that stage, then the school system doesn’t give a crap.
According to the Tulsa Public Schools website, students have the option to take two units of the same foreign language to substitute the one required unit of technology. Technology classes range anywhere from family and consumer science to business tech. How is it that these totally different subjects could be interchangeable? Both are equally important in receiving a well-rounded education and preparing students for college course work.
In countries such as France, it is mandatory that students begin learning a first foreign language starting in collège, which is the French equivalent of middle school. Students also have to take a second foreign language, or regional French language, during this time as well. Upon completing high school, the French must take an exam called Le Baccalauréat in order to pursue education at a university. Students have to demonstrate their knowledge on a number of subjects on this exam, including their foreign language of choice.
According to an article on Gallup.com, only one-fourth of Americans can speak another language well enough to have a real conversation. Seventy seven percent of Americans believe it is absolutely necessary that immigrants in the U.S. speak English. However, only 19 percent think that it’s necessary for Americans to speak a second language.
The fact that so few Americans are fluent in other languages puts us at a disadvantage. What if you want to study abroad? What if you have a business partner who is Russian? What if you need help from someone who can’t speak your language? As a society we think everyone visiting the good old US of A should speak perfect English or “go the hell back where they came from.” Then we go trotting off to other countries expecting them to cater to our needs and speak our language.
A solution to this issue could be making it obligatory that students pick a foreign language to study the entire time they’re in school. Other countries do it, and there is much to be learned by their example.
Language is everything. It’s how we express ideas, make friends, and change the world. If America placed as much importance on appreciating other cultures as it does on math, we could truly live up to our name as the greatest country in the world.