Opinion

Learning a foreign language: the ingredient for a successful nation

Students take notes in a Spanish class at UHS. (Danya Clein)

By AKBAR AMIN
Staff Writer

Living in an ever-diverse and growing country, individuals who know a foreign language have a great advantage over those who do not. There is no better time than high school, where students tend to become more mature and responsible, to start learning a foreign language.

High schoolers often think that one of the only advantages they gain from learning a foreign language is recognition by colleges and employers. While this is true, the advantages go farther.

Knowing a foreign language helps an individual understand the culture and tradition behind it . This understanding is vital at a young age, especially in a world where people are dependent upon one another for goods, services and solutions to political disputes. As published in an article by the Foreign Language Department at Indian River High School in New York, “a person competent in other languages can bridge the gap between cultures, contribute to international diplomacy, promote national security and world peace, and successfully engage in international trade.”  

Donald Trump is an excellent example of why learning a foreign language is important. Most of Trump’s vitriol has been directed at Mexican immigrants coming to the US, sometimes illegally — he has called them, among other things, “rapists” and drug mules. “I would definitely not have agreed, but I would also have not been so infuriated with Trump’s words if I had not previously known about Mexican culture,” said Douglas Sun (Fr.).

A recent statistic also provided by Indian River High School states that 52.7% of Europeans are fluent in both their native tongue and at least one other language, while only 9.3% of Americans are fluent in both their native tongue and another language. In a multicultural nation like America, this is a very disappointing statistic. “I think this is partially due to the fact that learning a foreign language is more necessary in Europe than it is in the United States…Still, I think the low percentage of Americans that know multiple languages fluently is concerning, as it leaves us somewhat limited in communication,” said Eric Xu (Jr.). Amongst our diverse population, this limitation is unacceptable, especially when so much of America is multicultural and diverse.

In contrast, many people claim that learning a foreign language is not important to learn in high school. “For some reason, most schools teach modern languages as they teach Latin: you learn grammar rules, you memorize long lists of uncommon words, and then use it to study centuries-old literature. Oh, and you do all this surrounded by people with different levels in the language. This way of learning/teaching might be great for your culture, but you should not be surprised if all you can say when you get to Mexico is ‘sí’ or ‘no,’” said an anonymous writer on the blog The Rationalist Conspiracy.

Although this reasoning seems logical, it is not entirely based in fact. The writer does admit that learning style contributes to cultural understanding, but also brings up the point that most people forget their foreign language after high school. “I think it is satisfactory to know the basics of the language that are sufficient to understand a native speaker,” said Miranel Chico (Jr.) If the only thing one ends up remembering is “yes” and “no” in Spanish,  you have learned something. Learning a foreign language in high school is not based on how much students can cram into their minds, but rather how they can form and understand a conversation with a native speaker.

All high schools should make it mandatory for students to learn a foreign language; there really is no disadvantage to it.

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