I’ve been meeting a lot of international students in the past few weeks and one of the things that keeps impressing me is the fact that most of them know several languages. They know their native tongue, English and one or two more. Most Americans… well, we know American English and that’s all.

Sure, that is a generalization some have made a concerted effort to learn Spanish or French. I even have a friend who decided to be a Russian major in college before going on to medical school. But as a whole we are very limited in our knowledge of languages. I took four years of Spanish in high school and a semester in college. I then spent 7 weeks in Spain attempting to learn the language. And still I’m a beginner when it comes to Spanish. Hola.

The flaw, in my opinion, is the system we’ve got set-up here. A foreign language is a requirement in most high schools in the country, but that is often the first time we come in contact with anything other than English. Some colleges have a foreign language requirement, but if you fulfilled the requirement in high school you are often exempt from it in college.

In other countries they begin taking another language in grade school. They are immersed early, while the brain is still forming, while they are still able to learn quickly without as much study and effort. From there the third or fourth language becomes easy to learn. A friend of mine from Korea speaks perfect Korean, English and Spanish. She only started taking Spanish in high school but it came easy for her – way easier than it did for me.

With the world shrinking and countries becoming even more interconnected, those that have the gift of languages will be at a distinct advantage over the single-language speakers. I wonder how that will impact the US’s influence in the decades to come.

 

Katie Hinderer

Katie Hinderer is a freelance writer and social media enthusiast. She holds a degree in Journalism from Marquette University. Over the years she has transitioned from traditional publishing...