According to a recent Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal, despite the fact that the rest of the world is increasingly bilingual, many Americans not only accept that they only speak English, they defend it (“What if ‘English-Only’ Isn’t Wrong?” August 27, 2010). These English-only Americans believe the rest of the world should, and will continue to, learn English, to communicate with us as well as people from other countries. Or that some computer software will descend, deus ex machina, in the near future and replace the need for cross-cultural, cross-linguistic human interaction.
When carried out across our national education landscape, this means Americans continue to devalue the advantages of teaching our children a second language. Foreign language learning is not mandatory in the national public school system and the percentage of public elementary schools offering foreign-language instruction decreased from 31% to 25% over the past ten years; in middle schools, that figure dropped from 75% to 58%. This simply makes it that much harder for our kids to succeed in tomorrow’s job market, a market where the US will not necessarily be the reigning economic power. They will also miss out on all the social, political and cultural advantages of speaking a second language. Why would anyone defend that?
In contrast to the bleak statistics, there are still pockets of parents lobbying for language teaching all over the country. A recent Fayetteville Observer article reported on a first-grade teacher in a public school based in Cumberland County, North Carolina who is getting ready for back to school by decorating her class with maps and pictures of koalas for their Australia study. All 650 students in her school will also be learning Mandarin Chinese (“Youngsters heading back to globe-trotting classroom” August 22, 2010). She explains, “Our kids, our children, when they graduate from here have to know there’s a bigger world out there than Cumberland County or the United States… And that they’re going to have to interact with kids from all over the world or compete with kids from all over the world.”
What is your take on “English-only vs. raising global citizens”? If you are reading my blog, I assume you care about foreign-language learning and how it will shape our children’s future. Judging from your community, do you think America is going the way of the North Carolina school or the English-only defenders?