Mastering the Second Language
Mastering our primary language happens as naturally as learning to walk. We do not suffer through hours of phonics practice, parents’ frustration at futile attempts to burn words into our brains, or the fate of being disciplined. Our language skills develop naturally in an informal, fun way. We learn painlessly without knowing we are learning. So too, can young children learn secondary languages at a young age. In order to be competitive in the world, students must begin learning a secondary language by their primary and elementary school years.
Are American students lacking in what it takes to become worldly people? In order for American students to continue to grow and develop into industrious and well-educated entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, and leaders on world levels, all public schools should teach second languages beginning in primary and elementary school years. To equip students with advantages that will continue throughout their school years and on into their adult life, we must start in the very early, informative years. Learning a second or third language at a young age could help build the brain, bridge cultural barriers, and open the door to greater individual opportunities.
The United States falls behind European countries where young children are required to begin learning a foreign language before the age of nine. According to foreign language education assistant, 31% of elementary schools in the United States taught secondary languages as compared to 23% in 2008 (2017)
These statistics implied by the American Academy of Arts and Science, 2008 show a reversal in the upward trend from 1987-1997. Shortage of qualified teachers is usually cited as the main reason for not teaching secondary languages in elementary schools.
Educators say they simply could not find enough teachers to meet the need. Students are willing and eager to learn secondary languages. State politicians and Nancy DeVos, Secretary of Education, should push for a change in this downward trend. Scientists have shown that children who learn a secondary language in the early years develop a stronger brain function. The majority remain higher achievers. The students will one day become the teachers. Students well educated in linguistics will become well qualified, certified linguistic teachers of tomorrow. If we begin to allocate more state funding for certified teachers, we, as a nation, can turn the trend around.
According to the Defense Comptroller, President Donald Trump sent Congress a proposed military budget request of $52 billion above the defense budget cap (2018). This is in addition to the trillions already budgeted for military. This budget does not include nuclear weapons costs. Then, let us throw in another eight million for the newly formed Space Force. If we can find that much money for military, could we not find a tidbit of that amount to allocate to education? Also, there is the wall the United States has to build.
Rather than building walls and cultural barriers, we should strive to bridge cultures. Perhaps, the most important reason to learn a second language is to broaden our concept of other cultures. We often limit ourselves to our own region’s culture and linguistics that all languages other than our native tongue may sound like Pygmy languages of the Western Congo.
Our lives then become much more limited. We cannot truly understand how our own country operates global affairs. Most of all, we are selling ourselves short with the belief that some people are smarter than us and that global policies are best left to those people. In short, we feel inferiorly educated. It’s true that we are under-educated if we do not know even one secondary language. It is almost impossible to feel empathy for a culture we cannot understand.
The current political climate does not encourage empathy and understanding of other cultures. However, we must continue to push for more and earlier lessons in secondary languages in our elementary schools. Politics are ever-changing. Restricted state and local funding and a shortage of certified teachers keep many school systems from offering more secondary languages. We must continue to push our elected officials to provide more funding for this curriculum. We can contact our state representatives, become knowledgeable about our elected school board and board of supervisors, and voice our opinions and demands.
Adjunct educator De Valos, opines that more and more businesses work closely with companies in other countries (2017). They need many different kinds of workers who can communicate in different languages and understand other cultures. No matter what career you choose, if you’ve learned a second language, you’ll have a real advantage. A technician who knows Russian or German, the head of a company who knows Japanese or Spanish, or a salesperson who knows French or Chinese can work successfully with many more people and in many more places than someone who knows only one language.
To compete on the world front, we must be able to compete on an intellectual basis. Social media and Internet marketing made the world much smaller. More and more brick and mortar businesses are closing, while internet businesses are always increasing. The current Secretary of Education has proposed school vouchers as an alternative to mandatory attendance at designated public schools.
Perhaps, Voucher System might give us more choices, much like private schools. Schools would become more competitive by offering a curriculum suited to the needs of students who choose to attend that school. More scholastic scholarships may be offered in order to court or draft students. The result in the long term may be highly competitive, bilingual adults. The downside may mean more school closings and more students falling through the cracks. Since we have already emphasized lack of funding and the shortage of teachers as major roadblocks to bilingual elementary education, might we look in another direction. After school programs run by parents and older students who already speak a secondary language fluently may be an interim possibility. This could be held on a only voluntary basis for students, parents, and facilitators.
In order for students to become competitive on the world job market and to stay in tune to global affairs, all while maintaining a sense of empathy for other cultures, the future demands they speak more than one language. We must demand that secondary language be taught at an early age. If we settle for substandard school curriculums, we will have substandard students, who become substandard adults, in a substandard country. Let us, students, teachers, parents, and grandparents, make our voices heard. Let us start petitions and implement committees for letter writing campaigns to elected officials. We could have a petition that would be heard around the world.
- Caruana, C (2018) Department of Defense Budget Proposal
- De Valoes, L. (2014) Importance of Language
- Flanary, M (2017) As Need For Foreign Languages in School Grows, Access Continues to Shrink
- Language Instruction in Elementary and Secondary Schools (1986/7-2008)
- Norquist, D. (2018) Department of Defense Budget Proposal