America is #1 in many aspects but not in foreign language education

Ariella Kandkhorov, Head Copy Editor

The United States is viewed as the best country in the world by many of its inhabitants. We’re allegedly number one in every category a country could be ranked in. This is, obviously, not the case, particularly in regards to the American education system. Besides faltering in math, science, and reading scores, American youth are also lacking in their knowledge of foreign languages. 

About 92% of European students learn a second language in school, a byproduct of the national mandates across Europe requiring the studying of languages. The United States lacks this kind of mandate, instead leaving it to states or school districts to determine its students’ language immersion. Consequently, a measly 20% of American students are learning a foreign language.

This exposure and education translates to 56% of Europeans being bilingual, whereas only 20% of Americans are bilingual. Bilingualism implies fluency of the second language, so we can presume both groups would be larger if an incomplete knowledge of a language was counted. However, I have a suspicion that the American population of bilinguists, even partial ones, sources primarily from a second language being spoken at home.

 Such is the case for my upbringing, at least. My entire family speaks Russian and I’ve been exposed to it from a young age — my parents even say that I spoke it better than English when I was a child. In any case, I know with certainty that my ability to speak and understand Russian (I could work on my reading and writing) is significantly better than that of Spanish, which I took for the equivalent of three years between eighth grade and tenth grade. 

So, despite being part of the 20% of students learning a foreign language in the United States, I can hardly say I know said language. Many of my peers share similar sentiments about the language other than English that they were taught in school. 

The lack of national requirements seem to coincide with the American tendency to underemphasize the importance of cultural immersion. That is, in cultures beyond America. It’s an issue of diversity and outdated curriculums that fail to prepare the youth for the real world. It goes without saying that bilingualism is incredibly useful in our globalized society.