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