Language studies in grammar schools

March 6, 2012
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Since 1997, the percentage of elementary and middle schools that offer foreign language courses has fallen significantly, from 31 percent to 25 percent in elementary schools and from 75 percent to 58 percent in middle schools. However, high school's offering foreign language courses has remained at 91 percent. Why has language studies fallen out of our elementary schools when learned earlier they are more lasting than high school language courses? Studies have proven that a person's window for learning a language at the same pace and fluidity as your first language shuts between the ages of 6 and 8. If learned before that age, a second language will be stored and retained in the same section of the brain as a person's first language. After the window is closed, the brain stores languages in a separate part of the brain where grammatical errors become more common and a native accent is much more difficult to obtain.

A recent poll in the European Union showed that 56 percent of Europeans speak a second language and 28 percent speak two or more foreign languages. In the United States polls have consistently shown that only 19 percent of people speak a foreign language. A major reason for this striking difference in the importance placed on language studies is an American mindset that traces back to the origins of our country. Languages besides English are considered unnecessary to most Americans because there is no immediate or daily need for the knowledge of foreign languages. However, knowledge of more than one language provides more global opportunity and sensitivity. Knowledge of languages may be the main reason that other countries surpass the United States in the global economy. In any field, communication is key.

How can only 19 percent of Americans speak a second language when 91 percent of high school's offer and require classes in foreign language studies? The answer is simply the age of the students that courses are being offered to. After puberty a language barrier in your brain "locks", making it difficult to learn and process other languages and requiring intensive studies to become fluent in a language other than those already established. The solution to this issue is simple, but has been avoided for years and it is to require children to learn more than one language at the elementary level. There is no longer an argument available to suggest that knowing a language other than English is unnecessary. Although an abundant 400 million people speak English which is becoming a global language, 500 million people speak Spanish as either their first or second language and more than 1 billion people speak Chinese or a dialect of Mandarin. With the amount of people speaking other languages and dialects growing, it is necessary for the United States to step up in the language department and begin to require studies besides English.

There are so many perks to learning more than one language before high school; it is unreasonable that the United States does not already offer the courses in public and private schools nationwide. Evidence proves that those who learn three or more foreign languages before puberty become more adaptive and flexible to learn other languages in the future. Even if language proficiency isn’t part of a job requirement, it shows prospective employers that you are focused, dedicated, and sensitive to other cultures. The use of a second language knows no bounds and can greatly impact your life. It does not only open doors to better understanding and communicating with those who do to speak English, but also to establish relationships with those from other countries, a vast increase in job opportunities and even an increase in English skills.

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