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Should Americans Be Learning Foreign Languages Starting in Kindergarten? ¿Español que aprende en jardín de la infancia?

Updated on July 29, 2012

Que? Foreign Language in Schools?

Illegal immigration has been a sore subject in the United States for years, even decades. Particularly, when the economy is not doing well, Americans that are out of work, fear for their jobs, or have family and loved ones who are tend to, and may have a right to blame illegal immigration as part of the problem. Political figures have risen and fallen in the eyes of their constituents based on their stance on how the illegal immigration problem should be handled. Words like amnesty have become familiar within the proposed solutions and have been a lightening rod for those who oppose any measure taken to fight illegal immigration that doesn’t involve rounding all of “them” up and sending them home. I wonder though, other than the economic concerns, particularly in states that border Mexico, how much of the anger over illegal immigration is actually out of White’s fear that they are rapidly losing grasp of what they believe America is, has always been and should forever be. How much of the anger is simply based on race. Ask someone you know who is a fierce proponent of immigration law their opinion on whether English should be officially made the language of the United States constitutionally. Most likely, the answer will be a sharp, decisive, and demanding, “YES!” I however, regardless of immigration problems and policies feel that we as Americans need to recognize the ever changing shape of the racial and cultural make up of our country. It is a fact that in mere decades, whites will no longer make up the majority of the United States Population, and this does not include the undocumented residents. Knowing this, should we as responsible parents advocate that our children are taught to become as fluent in Spanish as they are in English beginning in Kindergarten?


Appeasing Non-Comformity to U.S. Culture?

Those who argue against teaching our children Spanish beginning in grade school will say that doing this is simply appeasing those who do not want to conform to our country’s and societies norms. We speak English, get used to it or get out, are common battle cries. A popular cheese steak restaurant in Philadelphia once famously put up a sign informing all comers that they will only take orders for their product in English. The owner of this establishment was viewed as a hero by some. I personally think he foolishly left profits on the table… Proponents of teaching both languages will claim that it will help young students whose parent’s language is Spanish do better in the classroom and not be left behind because their natural language is different. They will also argue that it is imperative that our children know both languages because eventually, there will be as many Spanish speakers in the U.S. as there are English speakers. Both of these arguments can be easily rebuked simply by arguing that we will be giving special treatment to the non-English speakers at the expense of those who speak the “native” tongue. Also, why would the language learned be required to be Spanish? Why not, French or Japanese?

Traditional Foreign Language Study in U.S. Public Schools: Wasting Time and Resources?

From my point of view, I at times am almost embarrassed by the fact that most of us in the U.S. are limited to speaking only English. If you have a chance, talk to someone from Germany, Italy, or France. Most of the time, citizens of these countries can speak 3 and even 4 different languages including English. They can travel here and instantly communicate with us. If we travel to those countries we have to attempt to be polite to request that they speak English to us!!! In their country! The irony is self evident. So, instead of doing what is necessary and educating our children to keep up in an ever changing world, we continue to require our kids to take a mere 3 years of a language in high school. I don’t know about you, but I forgot most of the German I learned the moment I stopped taking the class in 11th grade. Well, I still know of a few of the insults and how to ask directions to the nearest disco. I fear that if we don’t change our ways and expand our attitudes and what we consider “norms” of our society in the U.S., we as English only speakers will eventually be the ones wandering around, in our own country, hoping to find someone to whom we can communicate.

Friends Articles

Please visit Samantha Mayer's article Learning Languages is the Solution to Racism for an interesting insight on a similar topic matter. She is a very good writer with fresh ideas and enthusiastic tone!


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    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Peter, I'm not sure the issue is a racial one where whites, or any other standard people group in America, feel that they are losing grasp on what America stands for. I don't think it's wrong to feel that people entering our nation should conform to American standards; and with language being in question, English has always been the spoken language. The problem that opens the door to all the discussion is the lack of an official language.

      Furthermore, Europeans have more reason to know other languages as they do: Their countries are the sizes of our states! If I spoke 'Virginian' in my hometown, I would surely know at least 'North Carolinean' because I lived on the state line, and maybe some 'West Virginian', too. There's more travel between countries that small, but here it's different. Look at our geography and English-speaking Canada to the north. We are isolated to our own customs. Yes, there is a great host of Spanish speakers to the south; but only in the last 100 years has the migration been so great and now largely illegal.

      Lone77star is right: Spanish shouldn't be the requirement--English-for-all should!

      To be fair, I have been the foreigner and, no, I didn't learn the language that year for being overwhelmed with my work and having just finished graduate mind was overwhelmed and distracted. But any longer there (Japan) and I knew it was my duty to learn the language to acculturate.

      So not Spanish alone but Spanish and any other language because being geographically isolated and speakers of the fastest growing language on the planet (think commerce and hegemony), we don't necessarily need to learn another language (I know that sounds bad). But I visited France and learned this.

      I speak a good amount of French, having studied it from 8th grade through grad school; but I didn't need to use it much in France because people would choose to speak to me in English. Go figure.

      Yes, kindergartners should start early and Spanish would be advantageous, but the issue is much deeper than Americans being bigoted. The point seems to be we need to learn Spanish to accommodate those who won't accommodate. I think we should learn languages to experience more of our world, whether for trade or social concerns like this or for travel and simply becoming more a part of the global community.

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Yes and no!

      Yes, learn another language starting in kindergarten, but it shouldn't have to be Spanish.

      The idea of making two languages official in the United States is scary. It spells all kinds of problems. People learning 2, 3, 4 or more languages is an excellent idea. But we should have only 1 official language. And immigrants should learn it. Period!

      The educational system should have a better way to help immigrants no matter what their language. And language education is, for the most part, horrible, from my own experience.

      I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and forgot most of it, relearned much of it years later, and still do not speak it fluently. I regret that. My first 2 Spanish teachers in high school used the boring "repeat after me" ad nauseum. The third year (last half) we had a courageous and creative teacher who knew what she was doing. She made the subject fun and we actually made hefty progress. I still have one report I wrote for that class 43 years ago.

      My wife speaks 3 languages. One sister-in-law speaks 4, and another sister-in-law speaks 2.

      Years ago, I was impressed by the maitre d' at the La Vega Hotel in Malaga, Spain -- he spoke 7 languages to accommodate all of the European customers coming to the Costa del Sol. His English was excellent and I have no doubts that his command of other languages was equally stellar. I still dream of learning a few languages and I'm working on one right now in the Philippines -- Cebuano.

    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Thank you for linking back! I'm having to re-read your hub to strengthen the paragraph on the US in my hub.

    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      As a native English speaker who has learnt and become fluent in Spanish, I couldn't agree more! Languages have so many benefits, and in a world that is continuously 'getting smaller', it is indeed becoming embarrassing for those who can only speak English.

      The situation is probably worse in New Zealand, partly because our geographic location isolates us from countries that speak different languages. We seem to lack even any sense of urgency to learn other languages as the rapidly expanding population is our indigenous race, Maori, and the majority of them speak English, anyway.

      Many Hispanic and European people are learning English from a young age because it is becoming increasingly important for them to do so. Even with the little German you know, Germans would automatically converse with you in English (I've heard many an exchange student complain about this). However, we can't rely on this. I noticed in Central America that whilst American brands, etc were welcomed and expanding, there was a general dislike towards Americans themselves. The locals much appreciated when foreigners actively tried to speak the language and engage in a friendly manner. Also, we may not be able to rely on English forever as Mandarin has exploded as the number one language worldwide, and China continues to dominate as the economic superpower.

      On the whole, languages open countless doors. Not only do they help on a day to day basis and with greater job opportunities, but they are KEY to bridging cultural differences and facilitating understanding.

      Spanish is indeed an ideal option as it is the third most widely spoken language and the easiest foreign language for native English speakers to learn, among the other reasons you listed that are specific to the US.

      There is no denying multiculturalism. It is inevitable and I agree that we should all embrace it. How is learning more about the different cultures we are increasingly coming into contact with harmful in any way? All knowledge is power. Languages is just a start.

      Okay, I practically wrote an essay but you inspired me. :)

    • hrymel profile image

      Haley 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I think learning a new language can only help our children, and as parents shouldn't we try everything in our power to help our children?

      Totally agree.

    • ShawnB2011 profile image

      ShawnB2011 6 years ago from Arizona

      If you asked me this idk.... 10 years ago I would have said hell no. But now, I wish I had learned spanish to be better at my job. So, as of now yes I think so. It wouldn't hurt any.