As a language learner and an English teacher in an international primary school, I frequently consider how many K–12 students in the US have access to language instruction in the classroom. The response? Too little.
There are several research organisations gathering information on the study of foreign languages and multilingualism in the United States, however this research is constrained by the lack of and delays in school data. The majority of the country’s K–12 schools were represented in the most recent comprehensive survey on U.S. language education, which was published in 2017.
We know that most K–12 students in American public schools do not get the opportunity to study a second language to competency, despite the fact that our understanding of language teaching is insufficient. Without a national standard or requirement, state-by-state differences in foreign language enrollment and evaluation exist, although according to a 2017 Edweek survey, one in five K–12 students in the United States were learning a world language or American Sign Language.
Despite the fact that there are many effective language programmes across the nation, a 2016 assessment from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences found evidence of a drop in the availability of foreign language courses in elementary and middle schools over time.
According to a national study of K–16 foreign language enrolment published in 2017 by the American Councils for International Education, only 11 states had foreign language graduation requirements. Few students effectively learn a second language during their K–12 education, as seen by the limited number of Americans who identify as bilingual who claim having learned the second language in a classroom.
In a world that is primarily bilingual, the outcome is a people that is largely monolingual. As of 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 78% of Americans only speak English at home.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that many American public school pupils don’t have the chance to study a foreign language until middle or high school.
Education of American Students should have bilingual education and the many advantages that come with learning a second language, but many of them—particularly those in public schools—do not have this option until much later in their academic careers, if at all.
A Prompt Start
Like many pupils, I didn’t have the chance to study a foreign language until I was a teenager.
An introductory French course was available at my high school, but I wasn’t interested in taking it. Learning French seemed irrelevant and difficult at the same time. In my hometown of southern Virginia, I hardly ever came across anyone who spoke any other language but English, and I had certainly never met someone who spoke French. I had no aspirations to ever leave the United States.
Education of American Students should be bilingual education and all the advantages that come with learning a second language.
After attending several sessions, I was unable to speak French or understand any discussion, no matter how brief, two years later. I put it down to being “too old” (a frequent misperception, although some research disagrees) to learn a new language.
Six years later, in college, I had to take a foreign language to earn my degree, so I studied German under an enthusiastic bilingual teacher who was also a skilled polyglot and linguist. I went into the class with a fixed mindset because I had tried learning a language before and failed miserably, so I had little hope of succeeding this time. I worried about my GPA. Perhaps sensing my uneasiness, my professor calmly and completely explained the advantages of acquiring languages as well as the science behind language acquisition, showing us every day the intricate relationships between languages and the various goals of multilingualism.
I managed to become conversationally competent in German in less than a year because to my newly acquired understanding of the importance of language acquisition. I am currently learning a fourth language and speak Mandarin and Chinese fluently, more than ten years after taking my first French instruction. This rewarding experience, as well as the professor who made it possible, significantly changed the direction of my education and career, leading me to pursue a career in applied linguistics and ultimately teaching languages.
Policy and education are influenced by societal opinions of foreign languages, perpetuating a cycle of monolingualism that cannot be ended without a significant change.
If we ever want to become a multilingual society or take advantage of the many advantages of multilingual education, national education officials need to reevaluate the advantages of studying a foreign language.
The Benefits of Language Learning
When it comes to a learner’s success with language acquisition, motivation is a key aspect; if you don’t see the value, you probably won’t pick up the language. However, in my experience, many Americans view learning a new language as trivial or useless.
Myths that remain undermine students’ enthusiasm to learn a second language. There is the argument that if you are not in the right age range to learn a language, you are doomed to failure. Another contends that acquiring a second language will prevent you from mastering and maintaining your own tongue. But these obstacles are really myths. In actuality, the benefits of a bilingual education go well beyond learning a new language and even go beyond communication.
The ability to speak multiple languages has clear connections to creativity and cognitive flexibility, and it may even mould the way we think by influencing how we access and classify ideas. It has also been demonstrated that learning many languages improves academic performance in both language and non-language domains. Additionally, studies point to cognitive benefits in areas like working memory and the potential to prevent the onset of dementia through improved executive function.
Some excellent news is here. Contrary to common opinion, learning a second language is not a zero-sum game. Fluency is not the beginning or the end of the benefits of language learning. Because actively learning or listening to another language can make us more successful communicators and more able to see other points of view, even young toddlers who are only exposed to a second language have communicative benefits.
Education of American Students can get benefits of multilingualism, you don’t necessarily have to travel outside of the United States. America is one of the linguistically varied countries in the world, with more than 350 languages spoken inside its borders, including a richness of Indigenous and legacy languages, despite the fact that the bulk of the population is monolingual.
Since English is the most widely spoken language in the world and it is amazing to be able to communicate with people all over the world through English, English speakers are at an advantage. However, it’s equally critical to acknowledge the limitations of communicating in English alone.
Monolingual English speakers miss out on a wide range of economic and cultural opportunities, including the chance to get employment at multinational corporations, study or work overseas, and deepen their grasp of intercultural communication.
What We Need Is Change
Preparing young people with the skills they will need in the future, whether to continue their education of american students or find job, is a primary purpose of education, but it can be difficult to forecast which abilities will be most helpful. There is an unmet need for multilingual workers in a variety of industries, including business, national defence, science, and more.
More language education of american students in public schools, particularly in the elementary and middle grades, will equip our students for a wide range of opportunities both now and in the future.
Globally, language education is already a top priority, yet it is still out of reach as education of american students and instructors. Budgetary restrictions or a lack of interest frequently cause foreign language courses to be cancelled, which reduces the variety of languages taught and the amount of study that is either available or necessary. Some colleges no longer require foreign language studies at all, promoting the idea that language abilities are optional.
As a teacher of English as a second language, it is simple to understand how studying a language may help education of american students to improve their capacity to communicate, solve problems creatively, and think from other points of view. As a result of having the chance to learn two or more languages, the students I teach have a keen interest in cultures and peoples outside of their own.
Learning new languages increases my pupils’ access to a plethora of various cultures and environments in addition to helping them converse with an exponentially larger number of individuals around the world. Instead of being daunting, foreign nations and cultures intrigue my pupils, who want to learn more.
With a degree of familiarity and understanding that surpasses translation, multilingual education of american students may consume media from cultures they have never visited and communicate with people they would otherwise find difficult. This helps them start to comprehend how vast the globe is.
Learning a language involves more than just expanding on what a pupil already knows. It greatly expands their awareness of what they don’t yet know and opens doors. Our perceptions of ourselves and others are shaped by the language we use. Multilingualism in education is more important than ever in a world that is becoming more globally interconnected.