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