As the world becomes more bilingual because of globalization, among other reasons, Americans remain monolingual, falling behind on foreign language studies in high schools and universities. Only 18% of Americans speak a second language while 53% of Europeans speak more than one language. This discrepancy is worrisome for several reasons: Americans do not gain the intellectual benefits that come with being bilingual, they are unprepared to fully work with other countries for their foreign language illiteracy (except in English-speaking countries), and therefore limit their career opportunities and experiences abroad.
Researchers have conducted scientific studies in bilingualism and found interesting information that upholds the role foreign language studies plays in stimulating children’s intellectual development. Researchers from the University of Washington have found that the brain of a monolingual baby ceases to detect and discern sounds from two different languages around age 10-12 months, whereas the brain of a bilingual baby does the opposite and gains the ability to distinguish between the two languages during the same age.
This means that, if a baby is exposed to a second language, he or she is more open to learning than a monolingual baby is. A researcher at York University in Toronto has also found that bilingual children learn more ways to solve logic problems and multitask, on top of knowing double the amount of vocabulary that monolinguals do.
In today’s globalized world, it is easier than ever before to visit or study in another country, immerse oneself in a different culture, communicate with those who do not speak one’s mother language. American students who do not learn a second language limit their opportunities to study abroad or even work in non-English-speaking countries.
I often hear comments from so many students saying they wish they could study in France, Italy or Japan but they do not meet the language requirements. Meanwhile, many students from those countries are taking advantage of the great opportunities they find in America and elsewhere because they speak other languages. Americans usually undervalue foreign language studies, failing to recognize the power it holds; they also do not seem to perceive the danger in deliberately opting out of learning more tongues when the world is getting increasingly more globalized and less American-centered by the day.
To catch up with today’s world, schools in the United States must take foreign language education more seriously and encourage students to learn at least a second language, or they will find themselves at a disadvantage later in life.