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Monday, November 10, 2014

An Imbalance in World Language Fluencies


While many young American students study a foreign language - usually French or Spanish - to receive high school credit, students around the world are often required to become proficient in the English language to be considered literate. 

The United Kingdom ranks the highest percentile in English speaking populations. Upwards of 50% of neighboring countries such as Sweden, France, and Poland are fluent in English despite their independent tongue. 

Israel, Jamaica, and Austria are amongst those which surpass the English-speaking population in the continental US. While a considerable number of this population may know the language on a secondary basis, linguist have begun questioning why adolescents overseas prioritize their fluency, while American students are content with only the minimum, mundane language requirements. 

In example, students entering university in Hong Kong are expected to communicate with English-speaking professors. However, the total number of Americans exposed to the Chinese language is a whopping 2.8%. 

"Between 1997 and 2008, according to a survey by the Center for Applied Linguistics, the proportion of elementary and high schools offering some sort of instruction in Chinese rose from 1 to 4 percent… Many of the schools rely on a Chinese government program that subsidizes salaries for teacher-ambassadors,” said Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. 

In 1958, our government sought to spread Russian literacy in America. The Cold War sparked the National Defense Education Act, which insisted American students break the tradition of inadequacy of foreign languages. However, the "fad" was short-lived. Six decades later, there is a 25% drop in national budgeting for language learning. 

Perhaps the drive to learn English is associated with the high hopes of an international student to study in the Americas. In 2013, nearly 820,000 international students enrolled at U.S. universities. This number is parallel to the approximate and record breaking 280,000 U.S. students who studied abroad in "hit destinations" like Italy, Australia, and Ireland. 

Are the corners of the world constricted for American students because of language limitations? U.S. News and World Report suggests that intercultural development in our global economy should be "a given" and that high schools in America should use their language departments to better prepare modern students. 

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