This may come as a surprise to many, but the United States does not have an official language.
The U.S. has always been a multilingual nation, inhabited by millions of people from all over the world. Many states have declared English as their official language, but we still don’t claim one as a country. This might imply that Americans are multilingual people, but according to a study done by Liberty Language Services, 78.2 percent of Americans speak English — and only English.
There are many benefits to learning more than one language; it allows you to be able to connect and better understand more people and cultures.
There are many physiological benefits to learning languages as well. According to Lead with Languages, a national campaign for language proficiency, people who can speak more than one language have better memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills than those who are monolingual. They also tend to switch between competing tasks and notice changes in their environments better than those who speak only one language. Lead with Languages also claims having more than one language in your back pocket can make you a more confident person and a better decision maker, as studies show decisions made in one’s second language are more reason-driven than those made in one’s native tongue.
According to a 2018 study done by Pew Research Center, only 20 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. study a foreign language. Foreign language learning is a high school graduation requirement in only 10 states and the District of Columbia. But instead of solving this problem by creating more foreign language programs for students, the U.S. cut 651 foreign language programs in colleges across the country between 2013-16, according to the Modern Language Association. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for many American students to achieve their dreams of being bilingual.
Meanwhile, in almost all European countries, students are required to study at least one foreign language, with a few countries requiring students to study two foreign languages. European students usually start learning a foreign language between the ages of 6 and 9, according to a 2012 report by Eurostat.
The world is becoming more bilingual every day, and Americans are falling far behind. For future generations to be successful in a multilingual society, changes to our education system need to be made now.
As a bilingual student who hopes to one day become fluent in three languages, I feel much more prepared to go off to college and enter the real world with languages in my back pocket. It sounds cliché, but being able to see the world through the lens of more than one language and culture really does make the world look like a completely different place. Being bilingual has helped me approach my own education differently and has given me an advantage as a student in a flawed school system.
A reform of our education system is long overdue, and prioritizing a second-language curriculum is an initiative American students need and deserve.