This past week, data from the Pew Research Center highlights the discrepancy between language learning in the United States compared to that in Europe. An average of 92% of the European population is taught a foreign language at a young age, compared to only 20% in America. The reasons for this may be multi-faceted, including:
1. English is frequently spoken throughout the world as compared to most of the European languages.
English is described as the language of globalization. There is not as much pressure for American students to have to learn a foreign language if in many places English is regularly spoken. This is in contrast to other parts of the world, where one can very often expect to be greeted in a different language in a neighboring country. Even within a single European country itself, there may be more than one language as a country's official language. In Europe, it is common to study even more than one foreign language, with this being required in school for at least a year in over 20 European countries.
2. There's no uniform standard for foreign language acquisition in schools in the U.S.
National standards for test-taking in Europe incorporate the importance of foreign language acquisition. On the other hand, no such national standard exists in the U.S., where requirements are generally set at the state or district level. In the United States, the rates of foreign language study vary to as low as single-digit percentiles in some states. Even the higher percentages of states mandating foreign language study lag behind the countries with the lowest percentages in Europe.
3. Timeframe for learning a foreign language in Europe versus the U.S. is generally different.
In Europe, students often begin studying their first foreign language in school between the ages of 6 and 9, in contrast to the United States where foreign language is typically not taught until at least Middle School or High School. Multiple studies have shown that language acquisition is overall easier the younger one is.
Many prominent voices stress the importance of foreign language acquisition. Memoirist Eva Hoffman described loss of multilingualism as "the loss of a living connection". Studies increasingly display the importance of "cultural intelligence" in our increasingly globalized society. As the Livni article summarizes for the importance of learning another language:
As parents, probably one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the gift of being able to communicate in a second language. Why not give your children a subscription to the #1 learning program for foreign language for kids, Little Pim? Subscription plans are available for a single language as well as the option to access all 12 of our included languages. Experience the wonders of a gift that can last a lifetime.
Sources: Devlin, Kat. Most European students are learning a foreign language in school while Americans lag. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/06/most-european-students-are-learning-a-foreign-language-in-school-while-americans-lag/: Accessed 08/13/18.
Livni, Ephrat. Only 20% of US kids study a language in school—compared to 92% in Europe. Available at: https://qz.com/1350601/foreign-languages-are-studied-by-just-20-of-kids-in-the-us/: Accessed 08/13/18.
By Alexis Dallara-Marsh