Highlighted Articles

Highlighted article: Infographic Of The Day – America’s Problem With Second Languages

December 17, 2011


Are you struggling to learn the language of your host country?  Did you also struggle learning a 2nd language in your home country?

It seems like there is still much to know about the language learning habits of the people from the United States.  Granted I do know a nice handful of North Americans that are fully bilingual, but was that due to the classes they took in high school or college?  The answer to that would most likely be no. Other factors like “is the majority of their day in the target language” and “is their partner not able to speak English” come into play more.

What languages are people studying now in the United States?  Which languages to people think are of most “value” to them?  Why are they choosing to learn those languages?

In a recent article by fastcodesign.com, they discuss “America’s problem with second languages.”

We have highlighted some paragraphs from the article here:

“You know and I know that other countries make fun of the fact that most Americans only rarely speak another language. But behind that truism, there’s plenty of subtle forces that influence the attitude that Americans have towards learning another language. And attitude, I’d argue, is everything.”

“It bears remembering that America is the world’s only superpower that isn’t bordered by a country of similar might–thus, learning another language just doesn’t feel like that much of a necessity as it does in Europe and other parts of the world. But the one thing that America does have is a tremendous influx of Hispanic immigrants. So it’s no surprise that people want to learn Spanish–it’s useful and there are plenty of opportunities to speak it.”

Some international school teachers are placed in a country/city where the host country language is only spoken by less than 5-10 million people in the world.  Out of 7 billion people, that is not a lot.  Reasoning says then that why should I learn this language that I will most likely never use again once I move away and choose to leave in another country.  I reckon learning the language of the host country is not so directly related to the usefulness of that “skill” when you move away, it is more about the quest for the understanding of the host country people and their culture (and the other many facets of a specific culture e.g. its humor).  In terms of maximizing your multicultural experience in the host country, knowing their language is priceless.

North Americans (and British and Australians) know though that it is still much easier to talk to people and get things done in English; that in turn is our Achilles heel.  The world has English everywhere for us. So, now I reckon that learning that language of English is directly related to the usefulness of that “skill.”  That is why billions of people are learning English and putting it up on their bilingual signs in their cities.  Even though Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, Shanghai still has English up in their metro stations and train signs.  Also, when Chinese people are traveling around in Europe (and even Europeans traveling around in a country that is not theirs) they are all attempted to speak English to the host country people to communicate.

So, what happens to the people that speak English as their first language?  What are they to do if they already speak the language that the “traveling world” is using themselves to communicate?  Thus, we are back to “America’s Problem with Second Languages” again.

Let’s not give up hope though.  There are still many moments when people from the United States are having successful encounters in a 2nd language, maybe not moments of fluent and error-free speaking, but moments of good communication and getting the meaning across.  I guess people living in the United States need to put themselves in more situations when they need to use a 2nd language.  However, with only like 37 percent of people from the United States having a passport, those encounters are not likely.