American ethnocentrism greatly harms the education of students and our connection with other countries and cultures. It all starts in elementary school.
The typical American education system waits until high school to teach foreign languages, if it does at all. According to the American Council on Foreign Language Education, only 20% of K-12 students in the United States are enrolled in foreign language courses. To receive a New York Regents diploma, students need to take only one foreign language credit.
The reality is high school is far too late to start learning a second language. According to MIT, in order to gain the ability to become proficient in a native language, a second language should be introduced to children around the age of ten. Although language ability can still be effectively acquired up to 18 years of age, the ability to absorb language gradually decreases and the chances of speaking fluently fall with it.
Pan in Europe and most students begin learning their second language between the ages of six and nine, according to the Pew Research Center. Additionally, in over 20 European countries, students must learn a foreign language later in their education.
So why does America take so long to start? Fortunately for native English speakers, other countries are reaching out to learn our language. The Pew Research Center says that 91% of students in Europe are English speakers. Although the Latin language is certainly valuable for study, it is completely immoral to expect others to come to us. If other nations put in so much effort, so much education, to be able to talk and communicate with us, America should extend exactly the same efforts.
In addition to just speaking, language education plays a very important role in cultural education, and therefore I firmly believe that the lack of foreign language education does not only mean the desire to connect internationally, but also the neglect of cultural education. The language we speak is so deeply ingrained in our culture. Idiomatic expressions, sentence structure, etymology and the words themselves are signifiers of cultural values. Speaking the language is a phenomenal way to get a taste of another culture.
Many language teachers are also finding ways to integrate culture into their classroom. Often foreign language classrooms are overshadowed by bulletin boards of foods, terms, and history from the country that speaks it. Perhaps, as a reward, the foreign language teacher allows his students to watch a movie in that language, allowing the media to show a small slice of art and culture from another country. The cultural upbringing of children can expand their visible world and create a new definition of normal that extends beyond the tradition they have built into themselves.
It is time for the United States to make the same effort to speak foreign languages for us as other nations. Not only could it expand our ties as a nation, but it could also benefit students to expand the world. The lack of foreign language education, at its core, points to a larger problem of ethnocentrism in America.
Photo by: Andrew Piacquadio road Pexels