Foreign Language Requirements Lead to Multilingualism

Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain

Comparative study of U.S. and Europe shows correlation between language requirements and multilingualism

A Pew Research Center study on foreign language education in the U.S. compared to Europe points out that while the U.S. has no foreign language requirement mandated by the federal government, most European countries require that young pupils begin learning a second, and in many cases a third, language before high school. Such language requirements foster a culture of multilingualism, whereas on U.S. soil, monolingualism apparently prevails.

The study published in Pew’s Fact Tank compiled data from a variety of reports to offer a snapshot of how foreign language education differs in the U.S. and Europe. With no national requirements for foreign language study, foreign language offerings and requirements vary by state. The report points out that the statistics of primary school students embarking on language study is especially low. At the high school level, some states allow students to choose between an art elective or a foreign language. A more recent trend in some U.S. schools is to allow computer coding to take the place of a traditional foreign language. The authors of the study posit that perhaps the lack of foreign language requirements in the U.S. has led to the phenomenon, or at least the stereotype, of the monolingual American. According to a 2006 General Social Survey cited by Pew, only of a quarter of Americans report speaking another language, and only 43% of them report speaking a second language very well. Among the demographic of bilingual Americans, only 7% reported picking up a second language in school, while the overwhelming majority learned at home as a heritage speaker.

In contrast, 30 of the European nations surveyed have their students learning a second language by age 10. Even in the Anglophone U.K. the government is implementing language programs starting in second grade. Furthermore, before age 15 students in Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia take on a third language. In many cases, English is a required second language, but other popular languages include French, German, Spanish and Russian.

Access the Fact Tank on foreign language education here.

#multilingualism #bilingual #langchat #edchat #europe

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  1. There are so many reasons to learn another language. The US should follow Europe and other areas of the world where a second language is required in elementary school as the brain is wired to learn languages at a young age. We would see so many cognitive as well as social and professional benefits.

  2. Your article is of vital importance today. It is imperative to convince schools in the US that learning foreign languages is not optional any more, but a true necessity in the new global environment. Also, they must be aware of the fact that beginning to teach a foreign language in high school (ages 14 to 18 approx.) makes absolutely no sense. At that age, students have already learned that other countries do not matter (no world history or world geography is taught in elementary schools in the US), and many of then do not care about learning a foreign language, and see no point in studying it. The right age to begin learning a foreign language is between the ages of 3 and 12. As the article rightly points out, by the age of 15, European children are already into their third language. In the case of Latin America, children also begin learning a second language many times at the age of 3. We need to do something about this and create awareness in schools in the US about the importance and advantages of learning a foreign language.

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