The Need for Multilingual Education in US Schools

The Need for Multilingual Education in US Schools

A perspective on the need and pros of having an education system that teaches students other languages besides their own.

Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay

"How is it that I know English, Spanish, and French, and you don't even speak another language? Americans!" the French cab driver yelled as he drove away from my final destination.

He was right, I was American, and despite my efforts, I only spoke one language, English.

What could I say? That I studied French for only two years in high school?

Later, I had a difficult time finding the restaurant where I would meet my newly-made friends. I followed Google Maps in the directions it told me to go, but I still had a hard time finding it, everything was in French. This made me very confused.

I tried talking with the cashier as I walked into a small Parisian bakery, but the cashier put up his hands, gesturing with his body language "I don't know English". I smiled and walked out.

I tried this two more times with another bakery and a clothing boutique, but I got the same answers.

This was the first time I felt closed off from the society around me, I didn't know what to do.

"Welcome to Paris," I told myself, and thought "I should've reviewed my French before I got here".

About 45 minutes later, I found the restaurant that my new friends and I were meeting at.

"You're 15 minutes late! What happened, did you get lost?" Frederick said in his German accent.

"Sorry! Yeah, I was asking for directions around here, but no one spoke English" I responded.

"Do you know any other languages?" Eliza asked in her English accent.

"I took French in High School for two years, but that's about it. And I forgot it all" I said.

"You only started taking another language in high school!" Maria said shockingly.

"In Mexico, we start studying English in the first grade, and continue learning it up until high school" she explained.

"What!" I replied.

"Yeah, in Germany, we do something similar" Frederick added.

"Do you guys speak other languages besides English and your own?" I asked.

"I speak English, German, and French fluently," Eliza said.

"I love learning about different cultures, and I have found that learning languages is the best way to do that" she added.

"I speak Spanish, English, and French" Maria said.

"And I speak German, English, French, and can understand some Dutch" Frederick remarked.

"Wow, that's amazing! And you guys learned all of this while in school?" I asked.

"Yeah, our education systems are multilingual," Maria said.

"And it's great because as Eliza said, you learn so much about different cultures when you learn another language! It's honestly amazing!" Frederick remarked.

"It also really gives you more access to the world, such as speaking with people from different backgrounds, reading literature in other languages, and just being able to experience more" Eliza added.

"Sorry about the lecture! Just one more question, does the US have any system like this?" Maria added.

"Really only in the private schools," I said.

That's when it hit me, our public education system doesn't prepare students well enough. We come out of high school barely speaking any other languages.

"Bonjour, voulez-vous quelque chose à boire? " the waiter asked.

Everyone at the table responded in French, and I had Maria translate for me.

For Further Reading:

Griffiths "The internet threatened to speed up the death of endangered languages. Could it save them instead?"

Mathews "Half of the world is bilingual. What's our problem?"

VOA Student Union "American-Borns Are Increasingly English-Only"

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