Deficiency in Foreign Language Competency: What Is Wrong with the U.S. Educational System? – WorldWise – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Deficiency in Foreign Language Competency: What Is Wrong with the U.S. Educational System?

November 9, 2010, 2:45 pm

It doesn’t take much to realize that the U.S. trails far behind other countries on the second language issue. Moreover, we constantly receive clear signals of the need to more seriously discuss the appropriateness and feasibility of implementing a second-language education policy. At the same time, we hear voices telling us that such an idea is just another unnecessary notion. The rationale used by many who justify this widespread second-language deficiency is that English is today’s lingua franca.

I really liked this post. It captures the immediate sense that learning languages is important in the global marketplace, but a lack of actions being taken my institutions and individuals to pursue this goal.

It seems a lot like the obesity crisis in the US (and elsewhere). We know what should be done to solve the problem, but our institutions and, more so, individuals will not do what it takes to live a healthier lifestyle.

I wish I knew what to do. Learning language in America is always compared to the rest of the world, but there are huge differences. The countries we are usually compared to largely have the ability to focus language learning on one or two obviously necessary languages. Just imagine if we, in the US, were able to focus all of our energy on teaching/learning Spanish. The outcomes would likely be much different.

The reality is that this is no focus in our education system across the country in languages for much of the same reason nothing is standardized in American education, local control. I’m not taking a position on good or bad here, just stating the obvious. There’s no agreement on whether or which languages should be learned. Also, there is no immediately clear reason why learning a language will be beneficial. My parent’s generation learned French for the most part. Asking them how they used French they likely answer either that they don’t remember any of it or that it was useful at a French restaurant once 🙂

The problem is, language isn’t something that you can learn in a short time frame when you need it. You can take 6 months of Korean before being transferred to Seoul and think that you’ll be able to function in society. How old are you and where are you from only take you so far. Try dealing with the local government office or diagnosing office problems with your 6 months of Korean study. Language learning takes time and lots of it. Learning a language early can result both in better performance in that language as well as improved ability to learn others.

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