Schools should require bilingual certification for children
Katherine Poston, Reporter
Learning a foreign language is an invaluable part of a child’s education. The new connections that result from learning a language can make students smarter and promote improved mental health. However, these benefits often fail to reach American audiences, due to a lack of prioritization of teaching languages in America.
The United States public school system needs to reshape the way it educates students in a foreign language in order to give its students a stronger foundation for the rest of their lives.
Across America, many high school students are required to take a foreign language, depending on the school district where they attend.
However, a large portion of these students do not actually become fluent in the language they take. Less than one fourth of students in America are studying a foreign language, and only 20 percent know a foreign language. If they do, it is often due to previous outside experience speaking the language, such as through living in a foreign country, taking language classes before high school, or living in a family with a second language.
High school students often have difficulty retaining and actively learning content, as they simply memorize the material. Teachers encourage students to study for tests, as they should, but most tests grade immediate retention of facts, not the application and demonstration of knowledge on the subject. This dynamic often leads to last-minute cramming the night before a test. Students also utilize memorization techniques as a way to remember as many facts as possible, but they rarely retain the information.
This unfortunate pattern does not leave students free of blame. However, studies including one done by the UCLA found that if students are taught a foreign language while their brain is in the early stages of development, the same level of effort is not required. Instead, a solid foundation for learning languages is built, paving the way for future learning.
Most European countries require students to learn a foreign language in primary school. Some schools require up to two languages for each student, and many of these countries have a national mandate for their students, which requires that students are measured on the extent of their language abilities.
The United States has no such mandates, allowing students to graduate public school while not becoming proficient in a second language. Even though some schools do require a language credit, no national standard of proficiency in a foreign language tests them on their ability. The difference between the global regions stems from the fact that European countries require students to actually learn a foreign language, while certain United States school districts merely mandate a number of credits.
The difference in methods is clear from the beginning; students in Europe are learning a second language around the ages of six to nine.
“Of the 29 European nations for which data are available, 24 have a foreign language learning rate of at least 80 percent, with 15 of those reaching 90 percent or more of students enrolled in language courses,” says a Pew Research Center article titled “Most European students are learning a foreign language in school while Americans lag.”
This lag is clearly hurting the U.S.. According to Positive Learning, an online academic learning program designed to educate children in foreign languages, “the same cognitive strengths that enable children to perform tasks help adolescents to excel in standardized tests.” Learning a language early on serves as an academic advantage because bilingual students perform better on standardized tests and are more aware of their environment.
Positive Learning further suggests being a bilingual student is similar to exercising with additional weights; not only will they gain extra strength, but they will also develop it faster.
“Learning or thinking as a bilingual is like running with a 50-pound backpack,” the Positive Learning website says. “You’re going to get stronger much faster than someone who is just running.”
Finally, being bilingual can also be beneficial for students when they begin applying for jobs. If they have a varied skill set, including speaking another language, they will likely have more opportunities, the potential to earn a higher salary, and a high chance of getting the job they want. Globalization has led employers to search for workers who can reach a wider customer base, and being bilingual sets up adults for these positions.
The United States public school system needs to begin teaching foreign languages to young children to help students become better learners. Being bilingual improves students’ overall cognitive abilities, test-taking skills, job opportunities, and brain development. An emphasis on language education will have ripple effects throughout the country, eventually improving global standings and bettering the nation as a whole.