Language courses are a cornerstone of the American educational system. 69.21% of K-12 students are enrolled in Spanish, followed closely by enrollment in French and German. Although French is the second most studied language in the United States, it has only about 229 million speakers and German 130 million speakers. However, languages such as Mandarin and Arabic have 1.1 billion and 422 million speakers respectively.
Despite this, these languages represent less than 3% of foreign language enrollment in the United States. Most American students learn European languages, which does not represent the diversity of languages around the world. The language curriculum taught to high school students needs to change, as it is too narrow and focused on Latin languages. Secondary schools should introduce a wider choice of languages, with a broader curriculum.
Learning a new language can expose students to different cultures, histories and people. A test on global affairs administered by the Council on Foreign Relations gave an average score of 55% to American respondents aged 18 to 26. Although taking any language course can increase students’ knowledge of world affairs, most American students know more about European history. than they do for other parts of the world, as the history curriculum is centered on Western history. Introducing students to African and Asian languages would open the door to the history, religions and cultures of other parts of the world. For example, learning Arabic paves the way for the study of the religion, Islam, because the Koran is written in Arabic.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is ranked second in the world for net foreign immigration. This means that hundreds of thousands of foreign language speakers move to the United States each year. If the language curriculum is primarily Spanish-based, communication between citizens and immigrants who speak neither Spanish nor English is more difficult and can lead to ethnic separation between groups.
Language barriers can also create demographic problems among non-English speaking immigrants, leading to large groups of poor people. French is the second most widely taught language in the United States, but French-speaking immigrants represent only 3% of the total immigrant population. The second largest immigration population by country is Chinese and the third largest is Indian. Schools should introduce Mandarin and Hindi lessons as these languages would be more applicable.
Having a population that speaks a diverse set of languages makes the world less dependent on one language as a lingua franca, a common language used for global business and commerce. English is often considered the international lingua franca, with around 1.5 billion learners.
While the world learning a language may seem beneficial, it actually causes people to stop speaking their native language. This could lead to language extinction and could also lead to the homogeneity of unique cultures. As languages such as English grow in popularity around the world, essential resources for other languages are dwindling as more and more people use the same English resources. Learning languages that are not as widely spoken would allow access to more resources, such as the Internet, from native speakers of multiple languages.
Including a greater choice of languages in secondary education also opens the door to jobs anywhere in the world. China and Japan are two of the largest economies in the world, and having access to Mandarin and Japanese lessons can give students advantages if they plan to pursue jobs in these countries in the future.
Learning different languages is crucial for connecting not just with people in the United States, but all over the world. Language teaching limited to one part of the world does not show the true diversity of humans around the planet. It is time to teach new languages, not only for the benefit of students, but for the benefit of human beings as a whole.