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  • Writer's pictureDawon (Cherry) Shin

Foreign Language Programs in the U.S.

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Dawon Shin

February Issue

The world is interconnecting faster than ever.

Half the population is multilingual, and 75% don’t even speak English.

Out of all countries, the United States is losing in the competition of globalization.

The U.S. is globally known as a country founded by immigrants and openly welcomes foreigners. It strongly values the freedom and inclusion of diverse cultures and practices. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 47.9 billion immigrants currently reside in the U.S., hitting the highest number ever recorded in U.S. history.

However, contrary to the exponentially rising trend of foreigners, foreign language classes in the States are declining in elementary, middle, and high schools. Especially, given that the States serves as the forefront leader of the global marketplace, the country fails to understand the significance of multilingualism, a critical asset for economic, social, and cultural advancement.

Furthermore, multilingualism contributes to globalization, international trade, and national security. As one of the global superpowers, the States will ultimately suffer from monolingual leadership -- a significant “handicap”. Monolingualism is a “handicap” in the 21st century that reduces the opportunities for students and our future leaders. Next-generation leaders need a broadened spectrum of global experiences and an understanding of cultural nuances.

The assimilation culture endangers the art of language and drives the loss of cultures. Despite those racial restrictions being removed from the immigration laws during the 1960 and an enormous wave of immigrants piled into America, the stereotypical perspective towards foreigners and foreign languages is still normalized. For example, President Trump frequently stated, “This is a country where we speak English. It's English. You have to speak English!" during his presidential election in 2016, just a few years ago. Campaigns such as ProEnglish still sweep across the nation, forcing their ideology that “In a pluralistic nation such as ours, the function of government should be to foster and support the similarities that unite us, rather than institutionalize the differences that divide us."

Languages open the doors to facilitate fluid discussions of history, knowledge, and culture. Wide education in foreign languages will equip our future leaders to better represent the interests of our diverse communities and their narratives. Not only that, as the World Language Specialist of Utah State of Education has stated, “Utah students are no longer competing for jobs just against students from Texas and California, but against students from Europe, Asia, and Africa.” Hence, to survive in the thriving international competition of powers, the United States should prepare the next generations with multilingual proficiency and sharp cultural sensitivities.

Therefore, the responsibility lies in the hands of the government and their supervision of the education department. Beyond individual efforts, governmental interventions are necessary to implement to catalyze macro-level changes.

The idea of “common language” and “common culture” must be abolished now. Just like what Kathleen Stein-Smith called in her article, “Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.”

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