What do you call a person who speaks only one language? An American. Being born and bred in the good ol’ USA, I must admit that I was slightly offended when I recently overheard this “joke.” But the more I thought about it, I realized that there may be some truth underlying the humor. Our nation is rapidly becoming a melting pot of varying cultures, religions, nationalities, and languages. It seems like people from all over the world want a slice of American apple pie. As the U.S. experiences an immigration influx, the door of opportunity is opened for Americans to study and learn new languages.
Most American schools and learning institutions do offer language study programs, most often in Spanish or French. I can remember Spanish class when I was in high school. Most of my classmates just participated enough to pass the class, and many viewed the class as a waste of time. “I’ll never use Spanish” seemed to be the common excuse for lack of interest. Years later, I have spoken with several of my old classmates, and I have heard time and again how much they wished they would have paid attention in Spanish class. If foreign language study is going to be effective in our schools, the instructors must do everything in their power to present the benefits of learning another language and also to keep the class interesting and exciting.
Also of utmost importance, foreign language classes should be offered to children at a young age. Research has proven that younger children can learn a foreign language much more quickly than older children and teenagers. Educators must take advantage of the young mind and begin language study even as early as preschool. Young children also seem to have more interest in learning another language, so it is essential that they are exposed to the foreign language as much as possible.
Americans are somewhat naive to the fact that most people in other countries are bilingual. In Europe, on the other side of the Big Pond, it is not uncommon for many Europeans to speak two or three different languages fluently. A great deal of Europeans travel from country to country, and they have discovered that learning an additional language is essential to efficient business and travel. On the other hand, most Americans only travel out of the country when they’re going on vacation, and they expect the natives to communicate with them in English. It’s ironic, too, that we Americans expect foreigners to speak English whenever they come to our turf. Many Americans still don’t see the need to speak another language.
By improving the foreign language programs in American schools, we can help spread the awareness that learning another language is beneficial to society. We can also increase interest in being bilingual by starting to educate children at an early age. As more Americans realize the need and benefits of speaking another language, we can help enhance and enrich our culture. So what do you call a person who speaks only one language? Decide to rise above this subtle stereotype and learn to speak another language.