“Thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, according to a government-financed survey — dismal news for a nation that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy.” So starts a recent NY Times piece. It goes on to say only Chinese instruction has grown among languages in US schools. The first fact – schools are dropping foreign languages at a rapid clip – alarms me. The second – more students are learning Chinese – is inevitable. Given the sheer numbers of Chinese speakers on the planet, more Americans need to meet them where they’re at.
There is much to say on school districts’ decisions to drop foreign languages – some say it’s due to budget shortages, and others claim it’s because of quality. Here’s some coverage on it last week from my local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, which caused a bit of a stir. Some school officials say we haven’t figured out how to effectively teach foreign languages to young learners, so rather than throw good money after bad, let’s eliminate the program. Problem is, the problem won’t go away, and it certainly won’t be solved this way. American students happen to fall toward the bottom of math rankings globally, too, but we’d never dream of eliminating math class because we teach it ineffectively, would we? If we’re serious about competing in the global economy and if we want our children to be among those leaders, we need to figure out how to teach it effectively in American schools. They’ll need to communicate with their fellow leaders, and only in English limits their options considerably.
In the meantime, here’s a website that’s lots of fun for the youngest kids and older ones, too. What does a dog say in French? Or a cow in Russian? How about an ambulance in German? Or a pig in Japanese? Not only does vocabulary vary across languages, but so do sounds like beep, bow-wow and oink! Learning another language gives us a whole new viewpoint on the world.