Living in a foreign country while teaching a foreign language has really put some things in perspective for me. Despite Korean students learning English in school from 3rd grade until senior year, it does not feel right for me to teach a foreign language without trying to learn the native language at the same time. It is bullheaded to expect the world to know your language-or in this case, my language, English.
Luckily for Americans, we live in a world where English is the most common language. With nothing but a backpack and a passport, the English language is accommodated just about anywhere one could think to travel to. But to compete in terms of business and education and even art; deeper communication is necessary and for that fluency in foreign languages is key.
Spending time learning to read and speak Hanguel (Korean) has made me start to pay more attention to the dismal state of foreign language programs in the United States. Elementary, middle, and high schools are cutting costs by reducing opportunities for students to learn a foreign language. Foreign language classes are all but absent in higher education. On top of this, the languages available to learn are for the most part drastically limited outside some private and charter schools.
We are moving into a rapidly globalizing world. With each passing minute, more and more people are being brought closer together by the internet. Stepping foot in a country on the other side of the world takes no longer than a 24-hour flight. Cutting foreign language opportunities in school and downplaying the importance of proficiency in a foreign language greatly diminishes America's ability to operate in the modern, fast-paced, globalized world. What Forbes rightly calls a foreign language deficit in America will have grave implications in the future.
NPR recently reported on a Georgia public school that requires all students at the school to learn Mandarin. While this bold move was met with a great deal of criticism, it does reflect a growing trend in some schools of seeing the importance of learning the language and culture of China. This is a very positive step for a school to take to be proactive. Schools that push learning Mandarin are on the right track towards empowering generations to come, especially when dealing with a country that we are so in debt to. An understanding of another culture's language is not only useful in business, it will help to improve the image of America with our neighbors and overseas.
It has been a source of pride and a political point for many (take this survey and see) that English is the “official” language of the United States and those who come to our borders should learn the language. But as a country that wants to continue to be a world leader, we will need to be very serious about pushing our students to be proficient if not fluentin at least two languages. As one blogger for Fox News Latino asserts (in this case, it is fair and balanced), it is not un-American to be bilingual and it is not a sign of defeat to have bilingual signs. If anything, it makes us stronger as a nation. After neglecting this issue for generations, it is time to turn our educational system around and place learning a foreign language as one of the most important aspects of an education. Learning a foreign language in the United States needs to move out of the “elective” realm and into the realm of “core subject.
America is in constant transition. With higher populations of minority groups becoming more dominant in the American landscape, we as a country should be a land of many national languages, not just one. Schools should be moving towards bilingual education in all subjects and students should be able to pursue an education in a variety of languages. Language has the power to change the perception of a person as well as a nation. This should not be forgotten as America continues to define our place in the global landscape.
As I study Hanguel, I am really trying to make up for lost time. I want to pick up a second language with more proficiency than I have in French, a language in which I can only rattle off a few verbs. It is up to the Millennial generation to place foreign language as the centerpiece of American education in the 21st century. Making that change will change other countries' perception of America and l make America a better place to conduct business and study. Whether it be Mandarin, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, Hanguel or Indonesian; a foreign language is key in our rapidly globalizing world.