Language Requirement Helps Image, Cultural Understanding

May 13, 2018

Everyone has undoubtedly had a difficult time finding the words to describe their feelings, even to a close friend. People do not know what to write in cards to relatives or even friends. Everyone has laughed at a meme, but some people cannot understand one word in another language. The struggle of not knowing what to say and how to express words to others through writing is like not being able to understand a person speaking another language because of your lack of knowledge.

Over 200 million people need to use Google Translate in order to understand a topic in another language. This is an example of the limitations and powers of language in our current society. I believe every learner in the United States should be required to learn a second language before they graduate. 

Second languages are necessary because they allow learners to visit other countries without having to use translators. When using a translator thoughts are simplified, which impacts the depth of conversation. The lack of depth may cause both people to feel uncomfortable or as though the other is not listening.

Language plays such an important role in our everyday lives that only knowing one language may become an obstacle. People that work with immigrants need to have knowledge of a second language so they can help clients find success and not run into language barriers. Teachers work with immigrants trying to help them become more comfortable in their new lives. Language barriers could be avoided if teachers knew another language.

Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that it is necessary for immigrants to know English and be able to hold a conversation with a native speaker. Only 25 percent of Americans though, can speak another language well enough to be able to hold a conversation in that language.

The majority of Americans that are bilingual speak Spanish, French, and German followed by a very small portion that speaks Chinese and Italian. According to Stephen Hawking from an interview in 1993, “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen.” 

If we engage in conversations with people from other cultural backgrounds we could learn from them. These conversations can help immigrants feel like true members of the community. Studies have also shown that 43 percent of younger generations are bilingual. The longer that a person studies a language beyond high school, the more likely they are to retain their knowledge of that language.

Today, America is diverse, and living in a bilingual community may lessen the fears of not fitting in. When people from other countries come to the U.S and are still in school, they are required to go through intensive English classes. However, Americans taking a foreign language in high school have a pretty simple road laid out for them. Immigrants must start their English learning in the grade that they are projected to be in, but American learners start their second language acquisition like a young child who is just starting to learn to read and write. 

Twenty European countries require their learners to learn English as a second language during school. However, in the United States there are 28 states that do not require any studying of a foreign language, 13 states that allow learners to pick between a foreign language and fine arts courses, and 9 states that require learners to have at least one credit in a foreign language. The requirements are made by individual  school boards. New Jersey requirements go above and beyond and require learners to have 5 credits in a foreign language, or show they can fluently speak another language before they  graduate.

Some people believe that no one should be required to learn a second language believing it is a waste of time. Some also believe that human translators and Google translate make the knowledge of a second language unnecessary. However, research shows that there are only 640,000 human translators in the whole world, so not everyone will have access to an interpreter

Technology, like Google Translate, has been developed to help with language barriers, but technology can be inaccurate with words and phrases which could end up being offensive. Inventors have developed earpieces that can translate for people in real time but again, the translation could be inaccurate. These earpieces are also expensive for the amount of times that you would use them. You would also have to carry them around with you everywhere you go and leave them in or put them in when someone is speaking in another language.

Foreign languages should be required for graduation because they allow us to better understand other cultures and allow us to speak with immigrants in their native language. Knowing simple phrases and words can make an immigrant feel more comfortable in their new world. If more people learned another language, Americans might have a more positive light shone on them.

All it takes is determination and commitment. We as Americans need to stop looking at naturalized immigrants as immigrants, but rather as Americans, and second language acquisitions is one way to start.

Rebekah McKay is a student at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale.