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World language emphasis


World language emphasis needs to increase

By Miya Cao, Staff Reporter

For a nation as diverse as the U.S., monolingualism is more prevalent than it should be. According to the U.S. Cen- sus Bureau, only 20% of Amer- icans can converse in two or more languages, compared to 56% of Europeans who can. Filter that statistic down to Americans born in the U.S., and the number drops to 6.5%.

English may be the most common language with 1.4 billion worldwide speakers, but Mandarin has 1.1 billion, Hindi has 602 million and
Spanish has 548 million. To think that students do not need to learn other languages because they happen to live in an English-speaking country is a Eurocentric, ignorant mindset.

Throughout the country, merely 20% of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, according to a 2017 report from the non-profit American Councils for International Education. In Oklahoma, students can opt out of foreign language classes by taking computer technology classes for two years instead.

The fact that foreign language classes are deemed so optional that they can be replaced with an unrelated elective is unacceptable. Language learning is not a waste of time or money; it is a celebration of culture and a commitment to recognizing the evolving diversity of our world.

The benefits of knowing a foreign language extend beyond acquisition and retention. According to a 2012 study, multilingual and bilingual brains have improved cognitive abilities, such as attention and task-switching, and are less prone to age-related cognitive decline. Learning a language can be likened to learning an instrument in terms of exercising the mind with the added benefits of cultural awareness and open-mindedness.

Current American foreign language education is severely inadequate. To promote bilingualism, American schools must require foreign language classes as early as elementary school. Although there is no concrete research that explicitly supports that children are naturally more inclined to language learning, according to The New York Times, younger learners can pick up languages with less effort due to play-based learning, which is usually more immersive and relaxed than older students and adults’ rule-by-rule-based curriculum.

Starting language classes earlier means that students receive a drastic increase in instructional time. Three years of class once a day for 42 minutes may be the maximum that a Conestoga schedule can accommodate, but it takes much longer than that to attain proficiency.

Knowing that English is the most spoken language in the world, people often dismiss the need to know other languages. English may be the “language of business,” but it was French before English, and Latin before French. It is time for American education to recognize that the world is not monolingual and never will be.

World language emphasis should be lowered

By Rowan Chetty, Co-Multimedia Editor

To stay relevant, language learning must adapt to the digital age. How we learn a new language is undergoing a transformative shift as translation technologies advance.

The rapid adoption of technologies like Google Translate and simultaneous translation earbuds have the potential to eliminate the need to spend years memorizing the grammatical rules of a new language. Assistive technologies can provide accurate translations in real time.

The authors of an article from Phrase, a language technology company, argue that as these technologies continue to improve, aided by artificial intelligence, computer-assisted human translation will transition to human-assisted computer translation. These advancements will eliminate the need to learn and understand the intricacies of another language.

Despite the availability of these assistive technologies, students across the United States are being coerced into taking multiple years of a foreign language in high school primarily to increase their chances of college acceptance.

Colleges typically require only two years of a foreign language; however, many colleges recommend more than two years which suggests that students should continue with their foreign language to remain competitive. Colleges must provide clarity on their requirements and remove these recommendations to allow students the opportunity to explore other courses.

While being fluent in another language has become less of a necessity, studying another language can help to improve the development of students’ memory and retention. However, not only are these skills not exclusive to studying world languages, but their effectiveness is variable. According to survey data from Preply, an online language learning platform, more than 25% of students who learned a foreign language lost their skills within a year.

This outcome is especially prominent among college students, due to dropping enrollment in world language classes. A Modern Language Association census found that enrollment in college foreign language classes decreased by 16.6% between fall 2016 and fall 2021. As such, many students who studied a foreign language for multiple years in high school are forgetting their skills once they reach college.

Rather than memorizing linguistic rules, foreign language classes should educate students on the countries’ cultures in the two required years with an increase in focus on grammar and conversational skills in the optional third and fourth years.

According to Les Elfes, a Swiss program promoting intercultural understanding, learning about other cultures helps people develop a more complete world view. It can also reduce ethnic biases and aid learners in gaining a better sense of appreciation for various cultures. Emphasizing cultures in world language classes will allow students to be immersed in the ways of life of others.

The language learning landscape is changing. By embrac- ing these changes, students can spend less time memorizing grammatical rules and instead be prepared to navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

Miya Cao can be reached at [email protected].

Rowan Chetty can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Miya Cao
Miya Cao, Co-Copy Editor
Miya Cao is a sophomore and Staff Reporter for The Spoke. She often writes for the News and Sports sections. Outside of The Spoke, she plays ice hockey and enjoys spending time with her friends.
Rowan Chetty
Rowan Chetty, Co-T/E Life Editor
Rowan Chetty is a sophomore and the Co-Multimedia Editor of The Spoke. As Co-Multimedia Editor, Rowan helps create and manage The Spoke's broadcast packages. In addition to creating video packages for stories, he enjoys covering features and adding puns to stories’ headlines. Chetty is a member of the cross country team and loves going on long runs.