Learning The Language
Opinions, Column

Learning The Language

It is well documented that the United States does not push second language education as much as countries in Europe.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reported that only 18 percent of Americans claim to speak anything other than English, while 53 percent of Europeans report speaking a language other than that of their home territory.

Why have Americans seemed to shove foreign language acquisition under the rug? The research clearly shows that foreign language learning provides numerous academic, cognitive, and social benefits. According to the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), learning a foreign language not only benefits higher, creative, and abstract thinking, but it also benefits understanding and security in community and society, which in turn teaches children about other cultures and helps them to understand that there are people in the world who are completely different from them.

In the completely globalized and connected world we live in, it is imperative to foster in our children a sense of love, understanding, and acceptance of cultures other than their own. So much unnecessary hate in this world stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of another culture’s religion, traditions, and lifestyle.

But how do we do this? How do we instill a sense of understanding and curiosity about different cultures in our children? The answer is simple: foreign language learning.

Take, for example, a kindergarten class, and consider what happens if you begin teaching the students Arabic. These 5- or 6-year-olds most likely had little previous knowledge of Arabic or the countries in which it is spoken. Though these students may have had previous experience with prejudice and hate towards other cultures, their minds are still malleable. They can still be taught to love and respect one another.

Along with learning the language, the children, throughout the years, are also taught about the culture of the Middle East, which they previously had no clue about. They are taught about the food that is commonly eaten, the religions that are practiced, and the social issues of the area—the list could go on forever. Through their language learning, they learn all of these other things.

As the students get older and enter high school, perhaps they would have an opportunity to host a foreign exchange student and/or be a foreign exchange student in the Middle East. By hosting a student, they would make a friend from a culture that is often times misunderstood by Americans. They would realize, for example, “Wow, this kid is just like me. He likes to play video games, hang out with his friends, and really cares about his family.”

By being a foreign exchange student, they would experience the culture first hand, which is something that Americans rarely do. They judge without experience. With this experience, the student may realize, “This country has so much rich culture and people who truly love one another,” or, on the contrary, they may have a negative experience. But, to the student who has spent years and years learning about this country’s language and culture, they will not be shied away by this negative experience. Since they have developed such a love for this culture and language, they will strive to make positive change within the country.

We struggle so much these days with hate in the world, and answers have not been found as to how to foster love in our society. Foreign language learning is not the only solution—it will not cure the entire world. Every single country in the world has its stereotypes, but teaching our children to break down these stereotypes and subsequently the walls that we have built up between cultures will only do good for the world we live in.

Whether we teach our children Arabic, Spanish, Vietnamese, or French, if we do it wholeheartedly and begin young, we can make a difference in the way they view the world.

Hate is not an inherent trait in human beings. Hate sprouts not only from a lack of understanding, but also a lack of wanting to understand. If we teach our children that message through foreign language and culture, imagine all the love that would grow.


Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic

February 18, 2015

6 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Learning The Language”

  1. I like the basic proposition that learning languages can help break down barriers. Mind you of course there are many countries which are multilingual but still have cultures with hate deeply embedded.

    But in a place like the States, it might help especially if done in ways that encourage listening skills, empathy and awareness. These skills and qualities are not readily associated with learning languages but in fact are keys.

    The reason why so many people struggle to learn languages is because memorisation is emphasised as the way to learn. A big mistake!!

    Here is an insight why empathy is so critical … http://www.strategiesinlanguagelearning.com/language-learning-and-empathy/

  2. According to the CIA World Fact Book, only 5.6 % of
    the world’s total population speaks English as a primary language.
    That number doubles when people who speak English as a second or third
    language are counted. By conservative estimates, that means that well
    over four-fifths of the world’s population does not speak English.
    It’s true that English has become a global lingua franca over the past several decades. This fact, however, really should have little effect on your decision to learn a foreign language.
    In my view, language teachers have to understand the meaning of learners’ development and the need for lifelong language education.
    Therefore, communication skills should be worked on continually.

    I teach Polish and English.
    Over the years, I have taught many classes. I
    introduce a new language mainly by listening and at the beginning all lessons
    consist of listening, speaking as well as repeating or performing only. I teach
    grammar simply through situations with no reference to grammar rules at all. My
    students listen and read a lot to improve their language communication
    skills. I do not take advantage of the bridge
    language L1.

  3. Some American students neglect learning foreign languages. But many students around the world learn English as second language and feel ok as it gives them opportunity to study abroad. Living in another country and learning about different culture is priceless life experience. But I know that foreign students sometimes have some difficulties while studying, like writing some college papers and have to resort to writing services for college students and experienced writers because of language bar, for example. But I think students who learn as many languages as possible can be excused.

  4. Learning foreign languages opens to you the bright world of unique cultures, traditions and mentality. Learning second language in early age helps to develop analytical skills and memory. Children are like open books, they don’t have any stereotypes, they consume the information and make conclusions. It’s much easier to learn the second language in kindergarten than in college, more than all it’s easier to learn the third and other languages if you know the at least one foreign. So I encourage parents to develop in their children love to foreign languages and cultures.

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