I never realized how important language is until I was without it. Traveling to a foreign country for the first time last summer I was suddenly unable to communicate even the most basic of messages. After spending half an hour trying to mime “where is the bathroom” I gave up and decided to learn the local language. The ability to communicate so eloquently is not only one of the most important ways in which humans are set apart from other animals, but it is one of the great joys in life and one of our most valuable skills. The one class that I would make mandatory for all students is certainly foreign language.
Humans are set apart from the rest of the animal kingdom for a few special traits, known as the humanities. We philosophize, create and appreciate art, have religion, and most importantly, communicate through language. All people, unless severely handicapped, use languages to communicate. Whether it be Spanish, !Kung, or American Sign Language, we use languages like no other species on Earth. We are endowed with the gift of language, and our culture would benefit by placing more emphasis on the importance of learning languages.
Speaking and writing do not merely distinguish us from other species, they give us the means to express our innermost thoughts and desires. If I did not understand the English language, I could not apply for scholarships, let alone attend a university. With speech and writing I can craft and argument, demonstrate my love, and even learn new ideas and ways of doing things. While most people who understand one language fluently are limited in their self-expression, polyglots have double, triple, or quadruple the ways in which to communicate and the number of people with which they can converse. With six billion people in the world, effective and expansive communication is imperative.
Those six billion people are becoming more accessible through travel and telecommunications, but without speaking a common language we are still restricted. By making foreign language a mandatory experience in high schools, millions of young adults will graduate from high school with a much wider world view; they will not be limited to communicating in only one language. As our world shrinks, as it is quickly doing, being able to interact with people of many cultures is becoming increasingly important. Let’s teach the next generation the skills they need to succeed: make foreign languages mandatory in high schools.