Language Requirements

U.S. Lawmakers are facing an interesting debate in regards to today’s school systems: Should learning Chinese be mandatory in American public schools?

Currently over 1.3 billion people populate China, which amounts to roughly 19.5% of the world’s population. Both through my former posts as well as through the different news articles I have referenced, it is clear that China’s presence worldwide cannot be ignored. Although I do not believe China to be a threat to replace the U.S. as the preeminent world power, I do think their possibility to impact the global landscape is formidable.

In a recent New York Times article it was reported that the number of middle and high schools offering Chinese grew by 4%. While thousands of schools have ceased offering foreign languages at all, more and more are considering Chinese to be a top priority over the likes of both Spanish and German. The Chinese government is actually subsidizing Chinese language programs in America, and according to the article, since 2006 China has sent 325 guest teachers to the U.S. to work in schools. It is not a huge number, but it is indicative of the increasing emphasis on learning Chinese.

I am a proponent of teaching kids a secondary language at a young age, and continuously through their academic careers. The benefits, which include an enhanced ability to communicate with a variety of peoples, as well as a broader cultural understanding, are obvious. Knowing more than one language affords one the opportunity to succeed in a variety of places rather than just the U.S. So with this being said, the question then becomes: what language should schools require and offer?

In my mind there is no clear answer. As mentioned above, China’s prevalence on the world scene is growing at a rapid rate, but over 44 million people in the U.S. currently speak Spanish of some form. Spanish has been the most taught language in U.S. schools, and according to many government bureaus and studies, the language’s presence in America will only continue to grow. Knowing this, I conclude that schools should either offer Chinese or Spanish in some capacity. These are the two languages that are most likely to affect Americans in both the near and distant future. Similarly the overall goal of offering these languages is to prepare students for future challenges, which it does well. By providing either of these languages, students will be gaining valuable knowledge on a least one of the two major U.S. global influences. The reality however, is that providing these languages and allowing students to choose is quite an expensive endeavor. The most pragmatic solution in which students could choose which language they want to learn, involves school districts encouraging some schools to offer Spanish, and others Chinese. If either a way to allow students to take classes at more than one location, or after-school-programs is implemented, students would have the opportunity to choose which language (of the two) they wanted to learn.

When it comes down to it, the best solution is one that requires students to learn either Chinese or Spanish, but have a say in which one they pursue. If schools can somehow find a way to offer both languages in some form, the benefits would far extend what they would if only one language was available.

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2 Comments

Filed under Academics

2 responses to “Language Requirements

  1. Will,
    As an English speaker, I feel incredibly spoiled when it comes to being able to communicate on a global scale. It seems to go without thought that people in other countries learn to speak English – but the necessity of learning other languages in America is always in debate. I’m far from being a polyglot so I struggled heavily through learning Russian, but while in St. Petersburg for two months I was able to get by quite well because of the high prevalence of English speakers. It will be interesting to see if Chinese is made mandatory. Doing so would certainly be an acknowledgement of China’s increasing power.

  2. I definitely agree that the two languages that seem most important, given the current and future global landscape, are Chinese and Spanish. However, for the vast majority of students, Spanish seems to impact their immediate lives much moreso than Chinese. The 3 billion Chinese people are geographically very far from the US, whereas Spanish speakers are much more close-to-home (both in geographic location of Spanish speaking countries and in the presence they hold within the US). I think it would be a hard argument to make, for any individual student, that Chinese would be more valuable, particularly given how much harder it is to pick up than Spanish.

    Interesting post – very thought provoking in the big picture.

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