Learning a second language is beneficial to all, especially when undertaken at an early age. Now more than ever, it is imperative for America to strengthen its connections with the international community. One way to accomplish this is for Americans to learn foreign languages, and such programs in elementary schools should be mandatory.
Other countries offer more language programs and their students surpass us in terms of linguistic ability. They are often fluent in a second language by college while most Americans never learn a foreign language - it’s no wonder that we have a reputation for being ignorant and uncultured. This situation could be remedied in part by the instruction of foreign languages.
Foreign languages should be taught in elementary schools because they are more easily absorbed at a younger age. Young people are more open to learning new things and studies have shown that learning a language at an early age also has academic and cognitive benefits. It enriches intellectual development, creates greater flexibility in thinking, a better ear for listening, and improved understanding of his or her native language. It cannot be denied that the earlier any subject is taught, the easier it is learned and the greater benefits it has for the student and foreign languages are no exception.
As a student progresses through his or her academic, professional and personal life, the knowledge and benefits of learning a foreign language become apparent. Understanding and acceptance of other cultures are nurtured in the student. Throughout adulthood, the understanding of a second language will prove invaluable with increased job opportunities, especially in military and government careers. With language competence, international trade, national defense and worldwide communication (even interpretation of the Spanish language here at home) are facilitated. The uses for foreign languages are abundant. In addition to the personal benefits, our citizens’ linguistic abilities broadens our link to the world.
Despite all the positive aspects of foreign language education at the elementary level, some may find flaws. There is currently a lack of teachers with sufficient skills and qualifications to teach, and of course, funding is an issue. Yet, there are indications that the government is willing to facilitate initiation of this program. Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige stated that the No Child Left Behind Act provides sufficient funding to support foreign language education in elementary schools. The government designated 2005 as the Year of Languages for the purpose of promoting and expanding foreign language study in elementary schools, institutions of higher learning, business, and government programs, under the guidance of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
There are many reasons to support instituting programs for the instruction of foreign languages in elementary schools. It will help our nation catch up with other countries in terms of linguistic ability as well as benefit students with enhanced mental development. The understanding of other languages will help make students more culturally aware and increase job opportunities, as well as improve our country’s foreign relations. We owe it to our nation, the students of our country, and ourselves to require foreign language programs be taught in elementary schools, not only for our present prosperity, but for our future as well.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.