We know that more than 320 million people speak English, but did you know that 266 million speak Spanish, 189 million Bengal, 182 million Hindi and 885 million Mandarin Chinese?
More students in China take English as a second language than there are English-speaking people in the entire world.
We live in a dynamic world. The “American way” is constantly evolving. Hopefully, we are incorporating the best ideas from other cultures as well as from the minority cultures right here in our own backyard. Cultural diversity, as well as both understanding and appreciating the language and culture of others, is going to be part of the global economy for the remainder of this century.
So why learn a foreign language if the rest of the world is quickly trying to learn English in order to communicate and do business with us?
English is enough to purchase a foreign product or service, but when it comes to selling in a foreign country, it is necessary to know the relevant language. If the sales person speaks to the buyer in his mother tongue, the client connects better to the product.
A few years ago the Kiplinger Report stated: “Demand for linguists is soaring as technology sweeps up more data from the Internet, telephones, etc. Especially needy … law enforcement and spy agencies. The shortage is hampering intelligence gathering and crime prosecution. Arabic, Persian-Farsi, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Pashto and Uzbek speakers are scarcest. Students and schools, take note.”
Let’s assume you agree that we can derive an income and other economic benefits from foreign language training. You are still thinking, “What are the chances my child will ever take one of those esoteric languages here in the Triad? What benefit, other than learning to communicate in Spanish with some of his classmates, or having a greater sensitivity to another person’s cultural background, is my child going to get from studying a foreign language in school?”
Here’s a guarantee I will make you. If your child takes a foreign language, he or she will have a far better ability to speak and write English. I just completed a survey of furniture manufacturers and retailers asking them what skills they wanted a young person graduating from college to have in order to be successful in working for them.
I thought the answer would be marketing or merchandising skills. To my surprise they said, “Give me a student who can write a decent paragraph in English and stand up in front of a group of people and speak articulately.”
Studying a foreign language, particularly starting in kindergarten or the first grade, and continuing through high school, will give your child a better understanding of English grammar, which in turn will train him or her to clearly express their thoughts. It will give them strong vocabulary skills and a broader perspective in their thinking.
Learning a foreign language teaches you that there are often several ways to express a concept or an idea. In the business world, it gives you an incredible edge in being able to communicate directly with your customer. It creates a relationship you could never achieve through an interpreter.
I have just become chairman of the N.C. Alliance for Language Learning. Since its establishment in 1998, the Alliance has made substantial progress in convincing school principals and state legislators that we need to step up our language instruction in public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade.