Every week in a suburb of Philadelphia, a high school classroom fills with adults of all ages who hope to learn English, but who, paradoxically, can only communicate with one another in English.
A handful of fluent English-speakers arrive, too, eager to teach and guide their fellow community members who are learning English as a second language. In the first semester, every single helper speaks English. By the second semester, a Chinese speaker, a Vietnamese speaker, and a couple of Arabic speakers have joined the team. But these are all young student volunteers with no teaching experience; the professional teachers speak only English and Spanish.
Yet the room is full of so many more languages, many of which none of us could so much as identify. Actually, there are hundreds of language spoken in the United States alone.
True, the best way to learn a language is through full immersion. But it's always a better experience- and a more calming experience, particularly in a society which is predominantly in English- to know at least one person who can speak in your native language, and to have their aid while learning English.
It's a very simple fact that speaking with a person in the language of their deepest memories is likely to produce a more profound connection.
And yet the majority of those teaching and tutoring English language learners focus on Spanish. True, a massive quantity of Americans speaks Spanish. But how many teachers speak, for example, Farsi? Arabic? Hindi?
But this concern is not at all limited to teachers. Nobody comes to the United States to do nothing but learn English. We're people, and we have other needs, desires, and things to accomplish in the meantime. We need therapists, doctors, nurses, babysitters, managers, clerks, businesspeople, and technical writers who can speak lesser-known languages. Take Arabic, for example. Most people who learn Arabic go into politics. But what about all of the Arabic speakers in the US who simply need to, for example, visit a therapist? Most therapists are English speakers. This is the case in practically every position, though in some cases, Spanish is offered.
I personally chose to learn Spanish, firstly because it was the only language offered at my school, and secondly because it was so commonly spoken in the United States and I liked the idea of making the US a more inclusive place where the grand majority could feel comfortable interacting in their native language. I don't regret learning Spanish. I love that I've been able to form so many better and further connections with more people. But it's not the only language English language learners speak. And frankly, if you do choose to learn Spanish (which is still a wise choice), why stop at two?