“To prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries…Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages”, said Arne Duncan, Education Secretary of the United States. “Unfortunately only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans (and increasing numbers in other parts of the world) can converse in a second language.” – Forbes
Arne Duncan isn’t alone. Millions of people know, some with out knowing explicitly, we American’s need to speak, read and understand another language. For most of us it’s not in our daily lives we miss out on opportunities to understand. It’s in our moments of vulnerability, when we need a taxi in another country, or want to try a new restaurant but can’t read the menu. American’s don’t speak languages because it’s not a pressing issue in our lives, at the moment.
Americans might not NEED speak another language yet but the time is coming. We can look at Europe and see the future of a developed section of the world where different cultures, traditions and languages all cohabitant. Europe boasts a 53% rate of bilingual residents which offers more trade, economic growth and versatility of the population.
Obviously American values foreign language abilities, because in 1957 President (34) Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act which provided federal support for foreign language instruction as well as science education. As a country, we care about our ability to speak foreign languages but we need to sell it differently to parents, administrators and the general public.
The future will be won by those who can understand more information as quickly as possible. Speaking, reading and understanding another language along with culture will give the leaders of tomorrow an opportunity to achieve with less barriers, more cooperation and a higher success rate. The only way to achieve a future where we have over 30% bilingual speakers in American is to build a national dialogue in multiple languages about the importance of understanding different culture.
Simply expressing a need for understanding will allow people who have a natural curiosity to feel supported in learning more. The naturally curious will get in the game and start taking a class, reading a book or asking a question. As American’s we need to accept it will be different for us but it will ultimately change the future for our children and our country. World Language instructors care about the future more than anything else because they know how language offers them a special opportunity to experience the future from many different perspectives.
In the end the best marketing and sales strategy for an instructor in a school trying to get more materials will always be job readiness. A graduate who speaks 2 languages or more will find employment much faster than a student with the same education and only 1 language comprehension. The future will be made for Americans who can travel the world, interact with the culture and shape their own experience by learning from others. The future Arne Duncan is alluding too is one where over 30% of the population speaks 2 or more languages is coming…it’s up to every World Language teacher to keep fighting for more classes, better resources and a more requirements so students get the education not only they deserve but the education they truly need.
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