Americans are pretty well known for their lack of bilingualism, especially after college. While German children, for example, are learning English at the age of nine, American children are putting glue on their hands, waiting for it to dry, and peeling it off.
When Americans do start learning a language, it is usually for the required two years in high school to get accepted to a standard university, and then it’s quickly forgotten, as very few students decided to enroll in language classes in college. More specifically, “only 7 percent of college students in America are enrolled in a language course,” according to the Atlantic.
And when this percentage graduates, an even smaller percentage will continue to use the foreign language they’ve learned, as “less than one percent of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom,” according to the Atlantic.
One argument against making learning a foreign language a priority tends to be the fact that English persists as the global lingua franca for international forums and trade. Why should I learn a different language, one may think, when the rest of the world already speaks English?
Well, for one, as the Atlantic points out, “19 million Americans and billions of people globally do not” speak English proficiently.
But this is not the only reason not to dismiss learning a different language. I was able to have a discussion with Benita Blessing, an instructor of German in the department of World Languages and Cultures over email. She wrote that “learning about cultures and their languages teaches you so much about the world we live in. You realize that global issues are your issues.”
Blessing went on to say that language teaches appreciation for diversity and other cultures, critical thinking skills and communication skills. She also pointed out that learning a foreign language gives you an edge in the professional world that many of your peers most likely won’t have.
Take Paige Tucker, for example. Tucker, a junior majoring in Spanish, has been learning the language since she was a fifth grader, and the head start has opened up many amazing opportunities. Originally planning on double majoring in Spanish and Psychology, Tucker decided to spend her sophomore year at Oregon State studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, and said the experience made her want to focus her studies entirely on Spanish.
“[By learning Spanish] I have met and connected with several communities within and outside of Oregon State,” Tucker said. “I’ve also learned how valuable it is to be involved with the culture around languages. I hope to continue my journey and learn other languages,” she said.
Learning two years of a foreign language is required for Oregon State students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts. However, if those two years are up and you have the opportunity to continue learning the language you’ve chosen, consider doing so. It can be surprising how quickly you can lose a language when you haven’t been practicing it, and you may find yourself wishing you had stuck on when you had the chance.
As Ms. Blessing eloquently put it, “In the end, the question isn’t ‘why study a foreign language,’ but rather ‘why would you not study a foreign language?’
The opinions expressed in Keating’s column do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff.