Foreign Language Education (my take)

I made a status update on facebook yesterday on the topic of my German homework.  For those of you who care (or can speak German even though there are probably some mistakes…) I’ll post it.

Heute war die Hausaufgabe sehr interessant. Ich habe gelesen, dass Leute in vielen osteuropäischen Ländern Deutsch lernen muss. Ich denke, dass Americanisch Kinder andere Sprache zu lernen brauchen. Vieleicht Spanisch oder Chinesisch.

Translated that is something like Today the homework was very interesting.  I read that people in many East European countries have to learn German.  I think that American children should learn another language.  Maybe Spanish or Chinese.

When I was growing up, I always remember bugging my parents about learning another language, especially French.  You know, this was the mid 90s so there were several Muzzy commercials on and I have always thought it was neat when people knew how to speak another language.  Not to mention how easy it is for a child to pick up a language.  The short of it, my parents never really gave me the opportunity to learn French, so I moved on.  They did at one point somewhat encourage Spanish, but that was in high school, and admittedly, I’m not a big fan of Spanish even though it is a very important language.  My school also never required a foreign language until high school, and that was for the honor students.  But my high school forced Spanish on us (because that was the only foreign language class offered), and most of us hated it.  I think that in the United States, we don’t emphasize the need to know other languages, and I think there are a few reasons for this.

One, We are a big country with only two also big countries on our boarder.  One of those countries (with the exception of Quebec) happens to speak English but I think teaches both French and English?  I’m not sure on that, but I’m thinking both are taught.  To our South is Mexico, which of course speaks Spanish.  But we don’t view Mexico as a country we should learn the language of.  Just ask most Americans what they think of Mexican or South American immigrants speaking Spanish and you will probably get something to the effect of, “They come to our country, they should learn our language!” Of course I don’t think this is a fair remark but I won’t go into why on this issue today.  Mostly I will just say that it’s not fair for us to judge them on their language and not even attempt to understand them.

Sorry, I’m getting off topic.  In Europe though, most children are required to learn another language in elementary school.  I think part of the reason why is European countries tend to be small and Europe tends to have several languages.  I mean, look at Switzerland (it has four commonly spoken languages: German, French, Italian, and Romanian.)  They almost have to know other languages and the need is emphasized (Austria teaches English at age 6, Germany at age 8 or 9).  Here we are used to everyone speaking English and we don’t feel the need to branch out.

So as to what languages I think it is important to teach (or at least offer) children.  I think Mandarin Chinese is the most important just because China is a growing world power and controls a significant portion of US currency.  I also agree that Spanish is important because we have so many immigrants.  I think Hindi (Indian) is important as well because we are outsourcing many jobs there and they too are becoming a world power.  I’m not sure how many people share my sentiment on that though.  I also think that Japanese (and I’m not saying this because that’s my minor or because I’m very interested in their culture) is important because they also own a good amount of US currency and are a major world power.  Those would probably be my top four choices, but and emphasis on the first three.

Oh, and just a fun fact for those of you who don’t know, Mandarin Chinese (not English) is the most spoken language in the world.  Heh heh, I know DORK!!

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3 Comments

  1. Shunsuke said,

    February 9, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Exactly, Chinese is very important to learn now. One of my freind went to China last year to learn chinese. And our college has chinese exchange proglum too! At the job hunting seminor, I heard so many company starting business in China now. So I feel more and more china is important countly. In addtion, English is also important for Japanese. In japanese life, we don’t use any other language!w But on business, so many company require we can use English. So I feel english school is increase more and more since I am child. oh, also chinese language school too. I hope you would speak many language and do work that you want using language!!

  2. Adam via facebook said,

    February 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    I am reminded of http://xkcd.com/84/ but the another reason we feel like we don’t need to know another language is that we feel superior to the other nations (since we win world wars and all) so we feel like it is their responsibility to be able to communicate with us, and not the other way around. Also, a lot of people that don’t have english as a first language, do learn it as a secondary one, so there really isn’t much need to know other languages yet.

  3. Doug Bolden said,

    February 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Honestly, necessity is the mother of invention. Americans don’t learn other languages because they don’t think they have to. We don’t seem to struggle economically for not learning them. We don’t seem to miss out on anything for not learning them.

    Of course, this is just an illusion in many ways, but at least right now we are a country that doesn’t even bother with subtitles because we have enough free money to remake every foreign movie ever made and too little discretion to stop going to theaters and making them semi-profitable. If we aren’t going to be bothered to make a concession to one of the most basic and easiest ways to import foreign culture (i.e. put subbies at the bottom of a screen and done!) then what hope does a more serious appreciation for a foreign language/culture have?

    Hell, even a lot of our beloved cuisines are heavily Americanized.

    Again, though, until it becomes necessary for us to play ball, we are not going to play it. Some of us will enjoy doing our own thing, but it won’t become national until we need it to be.

    Well, and there is straight up jingoistic nationalism.


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