LJWorld.com weblogs Spandrel

Language in the US

Advertisement

What has come to my attention in the past couple of years is the language curriculum in American schools. The consensus among cognitive social scientists is that language learning occurs much more readily among children. Other countries begin teaching their children foreign languages when they are still in the single-digit age-group. Here in America, we generally wait until 14 or 15 years of age to begin teaching foreign languages to our children.After spending a month in Peru last summer, I have become very aware of how important knowing a second or third language can be. I don't speak Spanish, so luckily I was with someone who did. Had I been alone, I would not have been able to get around as well as I would have liked.I began learning French in high school, but I would say that I am far from proficient in it. I continued French college for four semester and then dropped it when I had taken the requisite amount. These days, I might be able to communicate on a rudimentary basis with a French speaker, but it would be a bare minimum.Why do we not begin teaching foreign languages when our children are still very young--say in elementary school? Several large nations in Asia are developing at a rapid pace, and many of the people responsible for that success have been educated in American universities--thus, they must be multilingual.What I'm wondering is why we are not trying to be more competitive on the world stage. Having a young generation that is skilled in multilingualism should be one of the primary goals as a society if we are to truly compete on the international stage. But it seems to me that we have many folks among us who want to teach only 'American' things to our children. We don't want them speaking another language because it is un-American. Is this true or an exaggeration?I guess I'm just trying to figure out why we do not feel that a viable and fecund citizen future should include an emphasis on multilingualism. It seems to me that the broader our sources of knowledge and information, the better we can be.Any ideas? Do any of you speak foreign languages or wish you did?

Comments

jonas_opines 6 years, 8 months ago

"We don't want them speaking another language because it is un-American. Is this true or an exaggeration? "It's likely an exaggeration. There are undoubtedly some, but to think that there are very many like this is probably inaccurate. I think the real issue is that it's very hard to learn a language well, and so far we've gotten by riding on our success, which forces others to learn our language. I think it's likely that this era is starting to pass, and we will have to learn to be a more equivelent part of the world, which would include language learning, certainly. Right now, though, it's a good way to differentiate yourself.

RedwoodCoast 6 years, 8 months ago

Holy crap, a comment! Now I have to go back and reread what I said.We had three Russian students on our archaeology crew this summer. Only one of them was excellent at speaking English (she could speak Spanish, too), but I could definitely communicate with all of them. We also had an American student who had just spent a year studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt. Although she is now completely disillusioned with Arab culture, she was trading some Arabic and Russian with the Russian girls.

denak 6 years, 8 months ago

I speak Spanish (sort of). I doubt that I will ever become proficient and that is a shame. I wish I had been taught when I was young. I have friends who are immigrants and I am always happy to hear that they intend to teach thier children both languages.It is a shame in our country that we have this arrogance that demands that others katow to us. That if Asians want to do business wtih us, that they need to learn English. There isn't this belief that we, also, should learn one of the Asian languages. And of course, there is the immigration debate. If you try to impess on others that it is important to be bilingual, then they turn it around to being pro-illegal immigration.I did hear a year or so ago that St. John's would start teaching Spanish to all their students, so at least there will be some kids who will grow up learning another language from kindergarten on up.Dena

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 6 years, 8 months ago

I regret never having the opportunity to become fluent in twin talkor twin speech. Can you say "idioglossia?"

RedwoodCoast 6 years, 7 months ago

Hey, Tange, I just read your last comment. What comes to mind is the Saturday Night Live skit with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey playing the Bush twins. Thanks for bringing the proper nomenclature for these languages to light!And Dena, maybe many parents out there are just afraid that their children will learn 'secret' sibling languages, otherwise known by such names as Spanish, French, German, Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. You know this has to happen in other countries! Anyway, if and when I have children, I will make every attempt within my means to send them to a school that teaches foreign languages from the very beginning. Surely there are some Mexicans or Spaniards who want to teach in their languages here in the US.It is especially important that children who are learning foreign languages also learn about the culture or cultures of the people who speak those languages. If anthropology has taught me anything, it is that language and culture are intimately tied. Therefore, the only way to fully understand and utilize a language is to understand the culture(s) of the people speaking that language.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.