America Will Remain One Step Behind Unless We Fix This One Thing

America Will Remain One Step Behind Unless We Fix This One Thing

What will happen when we can no longer communicate with everyone, and we get left behind?

We all know the stereotype of the confused American: lost in a foreign country, unable to communicate with the people there and so resorting to simply yelling at them louder in English, the crowd forming while the native speaker stands their patiently, waiting to stop being spat on as his frustration rises because it isn't his fault that this loud American has come into his country essentially mute. And while this is definitely a stereotype and there are exceptions, this is the reality for more people than not, a disadvantage that America has given herself and that manifests itself in more ways than one.

Neuroscientists tell us that every child is born with countless numbers of potential neural connections, connections that are created through daily experiences. Later in development - around puberty - unused or unformed connections are "pruned" away, letting more brainpower be diverted into tasks that are needed on a day-to-day basis. At this point, the ability to learn a language is greatly diminished - not only is the creation of foreign sounds harder, but so is acquisition of new vocabulary and grammar patterns, especially devices (such as a subjunctive tense) and words that may not be present in the child's first language.

And when is foreign language primarily taught in American public schools? Almost no education systems offer language classes before beginning in sixth grade or entry into middle school (and only 58% of American middle schools have foreign language classes), so instruction at earliest coincides almost exactly when children are hitting puberty; keep in mind that this is very much variable by education system, since we have no federal mandates for language learning. Within my school system, language is considered an "elective", and only two years are required for graduation (so, if taken in middle school, kids can technically drop language after freshman year). California considers language an "arts" class, meaning kids can opt to not even take foreign language classes if they prefer music or visual arts since they need only one credit in high school.

Yes, many American students continue foreign language studies for longer than their mandate based on college admission requirements, but demonstrated proficiency and use of the language isn't on your application. Of the 25% of American adults who say they can speak two languages (a number that is abysmally low), only 43% say they can speak it well, and 7% of the multilinguals said they acquired that language skill in school.

So.. where does this stack up next to the rest of the world? Extremely poorly. Most European countries begin learning their first foreign language between 6-9yo, well before puberty onset makes language acquisition more difficult. And yes, I said FIRST foreign language, because studying a SECOND foreign language is mandatory in at least twenty European countries. And the two European countries that do not have mandatory foreign language education are Ireland - in which students learn both English and Gaelic anyway, they are just not considered foreign languages - and Scotland, where language classes are still offered to students beginning at 10yo. 73% of surveyed European elementary/primary school students were studying English as of Pew's most recent study in 2009-2010, even in countries outside the United Kingdom that did not customarily speak English as their primary language.

And this is just in Europe - South American countries like Brazil begin learning English early on, and many Asian countries send students to study in other countries to acquire language skills (China Daily reported 6,725 middle school students came to America to study in 2010 alone). Czechoslovakian students learn their second language beginning in third grade and their mandatory third beginning before eighth grade, an age at which almost half of American students have received no exposure to a second language.

Not only does speaking a foreign language benefit students' thinking abilities, understanding of the world and variance of culture within it and allow for greater job opportunities, a population of students who are prepared to face the increasingly global economy that America is (hopefully) helping to create will mean great things for their home country. But equally dangerous is the reality that we do NOT have that population, so we are losing an edge on the international market that will be almost impossible to recover from.

Australia began to see themselves in a similar situation, fearing that they would be cut out of Asian regional trade and meetings if their students did not learn Asian languages. So instead of whining and demanding that China, India, Indonesia and Japan speak English, the 2012 white paper proposed by former prime minister Kevin Rudd suggested job quotas guaranteeing employment for kids who learned and mastered these four big Asian languages - to a fair degree of success.

And this brings up another point - the selection of languages offered to American schools. Spanish is by far the most studied language by American students, with French far behind and followed by German, although both of these languages have experienced declines in the commonality of their teaching. The amount of schools offering Chinese and Arabic increased almost imperceptibly at grade school levels and much more noticeably at college levels, but numbers of proficient students remain incredibly low, especially considering how utilitarian these languages would be in international relationships.

So what do we do, how do we fix this? It's a deep hole we've buried ourselves in, but it hasn't collapsed and trapped us yet. First of all, American governments at all levels need to stop cutting funding to educational programs every time there needs to be a cut because an educated population is important. Prioritizing the intelligence of the future of our country is an absolute must; if cutting must be done, we can discuss the emphasis given to extracurricular activities that have little to know future value for the country (that will probably be another article), because the amount of money that is being spent on students is not equating to better schooling.

But more than anything we need to look at the language education we are giving our students. On the surface, bilingualism improves memory, task completion and ability to learn new things. Past that, however, knowing more than one language increases acceptance and patience with novelty groups and individuals, deepens cultural understandings that allow for closer, more personal relationships and business connections and helps one experience the world in a deeper way.

It's great that everyone is learning English because it gives us a common ground to stand on. But beyond that? Not everyone will always use English... and now we are back to being the bumbling American fool that didn't see a word of a second language until he was 14, an age where his international job competitors began their third.

Cover Image Credit: University of Kent

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30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.

Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

I want to give you the same feeling that you get in paradise.

30. Curious

And I never want to stop searching for answers.
Cover Image Credit: Favim

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8 Reasons Florida Is Actually Great And Not The Crazy Citrus Farm You Probably Think It Is

Yes, I may be a native, but Florida really is the best!


Growing up, I never understood why my parents decided to move to Florida. Everywhere else seemed to have cooler things like... well... snow. But since I've moved away, I have grown to love my home state and all it has to offer — aside from those crazy news headlines.

Sure, we might not have seasons and mosquitoes make up the majority of our population, but I'm here to tell you that the "Sunshine State" is a great place to be!

1. Sunshine!

Sunset on Captiva Island, FL

Bridget MacPherson

It isn't called the Sunshine State for nothing. The tropical air really is the selling point for most everyone living on the peninsula. When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than a white snowy winter, but now that I have lived through one, I can safely say I prefer the warmth to the tundra of winter.

2. Beaches

Sunset on Captiva Island, FL

Bridget MacPherson

Going hand in hand with sunshine are the beaches of Florida. Now, I am partial to the gulf coast, but truthfully, both coasts offer some incredible beaches with shells and surf galore.

Although I love a day in the sand, I would have to say that my favorite beach activity is watching the sunset. I don't know if it's just me and my own Floridian bias, but I have never seen sunsets quite like the ones back home. Every night it's different, and regardless of the weather, the sun always seems to find a way to peak past the clouds in the most beautiful way.

3. Outdoor Activities

My best bud Tanner and I kayaking down the Estero River.

Bridget MacPherson

We might not have mountains, but have you ever walked through a cypress slough?

Although FL is deemed as the pancake state because of its lack of mountain ranges, I still find great joy in being outdoors and connecting with nature.

Florida truly is a tropical wonderland with birds and plants that you just can't find elsewhere. When I moved to North Carolina, I was so surprised by the lack of birds. Then silly me remembered that birds migrate south for winter, meaning Florida really is just a sanctuary for birds year round!

Whether it be walking through a marsh or kayaking down a river, I love experiencing the unique flora and fauna that Florida has to offer.

4. Disney!

Steven, Caitlin, and I at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World!

Bridget MacPherson

This article would not be complete if I did not mention my favorite place... Disney World!

Yes, I am the Floridian who is obsessed with Disney, and I am PROUD! Growing up, my family's annual trip to Disney was the most exciting time of the year for my sister and I. As we have grown older, we still love going and have learned to enjoy it in a whole new way!

I truly feel that there is something at Disney for everyone. They are not just theme parks for children. There are so many amazing things to do between the four theme parks (Epcot being the best one), Disney Springs, mini golf, water-parks, and more. Disney World is truly the happiest place on earth in my eyes, and Florida just wouldn't be the same without it!

5. Day Trips!

My sister and I at the famous Colombia Restaurant in Ybor City, FL! They have THE BEST Cuban sandwiches in the world, hands down.

Bridget MacPherson

Branching off from Disney, traveling around Florida, in general, is so easy and fun! For such a big state, there are so many places to visit within mere hours of each other.

Some of my favorite cities to visit are Tampa (which is 2 hours away from my hometown of Fort Myers) and Jacksonville (which is the exact midpoint between Fort Myers and Chapel Hill!) There is so much history and culture embedded in the cities of Florida, and the accessibility makes it that much more fun to explore!

6. Diversity

One of the many historical sites in my hometown that pay homage to our history and cultural diversity.

As I mentioned above, Florida's culture is rich and diverse. The population is made up many different groups, including a strong Latinx population, temporary retired residents (snowbirds as we call them), and tourists from around the world. The nature of our state makes it a melting pot of diversity and culture.

I feel as though my upbringing in Florida inspired my love for global culture and influenced my choice in major and career path here at UNC.

7. Oranges

Sun Harvest Citrus in Fort Myers FL! It's got the best ice orange juice and ice cream around.

Changing gears a bit, Florida has some of the best food offerings in the country. Due to our location, we are able to provide the country with produce throughout the year, and you guessed it, oranges are our most popular export!

One of the best touristy spots in Fort Myers is a place called Sun Harvest Citrus. Pictured above, they sell the freshest Florida oranges around and sell varieties of juice and (the best) ice cream. If you have never had fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice, I am so sorry and will send you some immediately.

8. Fam!

My mom, sister, and I at sunset at Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs, FL.

Bridget MacPherson

This may sound cheesy, but the best part about Florida by far is that it's home to my family!

My family is my lifeline, and without them, I would not be the woman I am today.

All perks aside, Florida will always be the most special place to me because of the childhood it gave me and the loved ones I have there.

There it is folks! A full list of why Florida rocks, and why it should not be deemed the crazy state down south.

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