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?
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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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To The Parent Who Chose Addiction

Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

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When I was younger I resented you, I hated every ounce of you, and I used to question why God would give me a parent like you. Not now. Now I see the beauty and the blessings behind having an addict for a parent. If you're reading this, it isn't meant to hurt you, but rather to thank you.

Thank you for choosing your addiction over me.

Throughout my life, you have always chosen the addiction over my programs, my swim meets or even a simple movie night. You joke about it now or act as if I never questioned if you would wake up the next morning from your pill and alcohol-induced sleep, but I thank you for this. I thank you because I gained a relationship with God. The amount of time I spent praying for you strengthened our relationship in ways I could never explain.

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Thank you for giving me a stronger bond with our family.

The amount of hurt and disappointment our family has gone through has brought us closer together. I have a relationship with Nanny and Pop that would never be as strong as it is today if you had been in the picture from day one. That in itself is a blessing.

Thank you for showing me how to love.

From your absence, I have learned how to love unconditionally. I want you to know that even though you weren't here, I love you most of all. No matter the amount of heartbreak, tears, and pain I've felt, you will always be my greatest love.

Thank you for making me strong.

Thank you for leaving and for showing me how to be independent. From you, I have learned that I do not need anyone else to prove to me that I am worthy of being loved. From you, I have learned that life is always hard, but you shouldn't give into the things that make you feel good for a short while, but should search for the real happiness in life.

Most of all, thank you for showing me how to turn my hurt into motivation.

I have learned that the cycle of addiction is not something that will continue into my life. You have hurt me more than anyone, but through that hurt, I have pushed myself to become the best version of myself.

Thank you for choosing the addiction over me because you've made me stronger, wiser, and loving than I ever could've been before.

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Putting The "Discipline" In Spiritual Disciplines

Why actual "Working" at something in Christianity is good.

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Possibly the some of the greatest and most freeing news ever in the entire world is that Jesus paid the penalty for our actions in full... and there is nothing we have to do to earn this payment.

You can work and work and work all your life to try and "repay" Jesus back, but it would never be enough.

You can go to all the services, give a 5 every time you see a homeless person, tithe 15% regularly, know all the songs (both hymns and contemporary), read all the books, get all the degrees, and give every single shirt you have to someone who is without.

And it would still not be enough.

While that can be difficult to grasp to some (especially new believers), it is so thrilling when we realize that we don't have to try and earn it. We can just enjoy this free gift God has given us.

And while this is so true and can never be stressed enough, sadly there has been (in my opinion) a backwards thinking that pairs right along with it:

That we don't have to work at anything in our Spiritual Life.

There's this myth going around that we don't have to work on our prayer life. We don't have to work on being more frugal. We don't need to fast (that's sooo Old Testament). We don't have to seek time alone with God.

And if we aren't good at any of these (what the Church has called for hundreds of years) Spiritual Disciplines, then that's okay because our debt is paid in full!

But there is nothing wrong with growth? And growth isn't always easy.

Tending a garden can be difficult work. Knowing when and how much to water, tilling and raking, pruning and keep animals away, keeping aware of the weather, etc.

Someone can give you all the free plants in the world, and they can even plant them for you for free. But it will take work to make them grow.

When we are saved and we accept this free gift that God has given us, that is not the end of our journey but merely the beginning. We must continue to push and grow closer towards God. And that growth comes with a price and hardship.

You might have to get up an extra 30 minutes to make sure you get your time with God. You might need to make yourself listen to Christian radio to get some of these damaging and sinful thoughts out of your head. You might need to fast every once and a while. You might need to pay your tithe at the first of the month to make sure you do. You might need to put ALL technology away to sincerely pray to God.

Yeah, it might be hard at first to make these changes.

But so is running. And then you start, and keep going, and pretty soon you are one of those weird people who actually enjoy running and can't get enough running in. They are always looking for an opportunity to run. Running has become one of their key attributes and they HAVE to do it. It's addictive.

Now, replace "running" with "praying" or any other discipline.

Hard work and discipline is different than trying to "pay back."

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