“The United States is largely monolingual. In fact, only about 15-20 percent of Americans consider themselves bilingual, compared to 56 percent of Europeans surveyed in 2006 by the European Commission. […]
The United States used to take a much friendlier view toward bilingualism. In the 19th century, immigrant communities maintained — and even published in — their native languages, and educational policies were generally tolerant of this linguistic diversity. However, ideologies began to change in the 1880s, with a huge influx of non-English-speaking immigrants and developing reactionary nationalist movements. Eventually, this change in ideology led to a movement of “Americanization,” which adopted a push for English as a linguistic identifier of the “American.” As World War I raged, English monolingualism became synonymous with support for the U.S. Eventually, legislation removed foreign language instruction from most elementary schools.
This lack of foreign language education for children persists to this day, despite much research suggesting that bilingualism has a significant positive effect on children’s linguistic, cognitive and educational development. The benefits of bilingualism are not just cognitive: Hebrew professor Adi Raz said that knowledge of a foreign language provides huge cultural benefits.
“We don’t just teach language but also culture. By doing so we emphasize the importance of understanding the ‘other,’” Raz said.
[…] Although there may be no quick fix for the poor motivation and lack of interest in foreign language courses on campus, we are the future leaders, legislators and teachers who can make a difference in the way language is taught in the United States.”
[Lauren] Franklin is a Plan II, linguistics and Middle Eastern languages and cultures senior from Sugar Land.