Why Language Education is Critical for All Children


  • Research studies demonstrate that students who have early exposure to a second or third language derive significant cognitive benefits, gain in academic achievement, and increase their global awareness and ability to interact with others.  In addition, studies show that students from all income brackets benefit from language learning.  Specific areas which are improved by language learning include problem solving, communication skills, reading ability—many of the same skills identified as critical for students to succeed in the 21st Century as they live and work in an increasingly interdependent world. 

    WHY NOW?
    As the only country that routinely graduates students from high school with the knowledge of only one language, it is imperative that the U.S. begin to look at a systemic way to make language education a central part of the American education system as it is in other countries that consistently outscore us on international benchmarks in math and science.  If learning another language at an early age has positive effects on student academic achievement in math and reading, why would we hesitate to make this part of every child’s academic career?  Launching our students into the global arena as monolinguals will only handicap them in their ability to interact with workers from other countries. 

    To be successful in international business, we need to speak the language of our customers—and understand their perspectives on the world.  This can only be accomplished by learning their language.  With the changing demographics in the U.S., this becomes just as much a domestic need as an international one.  We have an obligation to our children to prepare them for a world that is markedly different from the one in which we grew up—it is our challenge and our responsibility to provide them with multilingual capabilities.

    Unlike the language classes many Americans experienced in past decades, language learning in the U.S. has changed dramatically in the past twenty years.  With the introduction of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency guidelines, along with the language profession’s national standards, language educators have redefined the goals of language programs across the U.S. 

    Instead of focusing primarily on the grammatical structures of the language, teachers are now focusing on student communicative competence.  Clear benchmarks define what students should know and be able to do in their linguistic and cultural capabilities.  Local school districts as well as state education agencies are beginning to switch “seat time” for proficiency measures as indicators of student success and progress in their language learning.  It’s a new era in language education and all of our students deserve an opportunity to develop communicative abilities in languages beyond English.

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