Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Learn a foreign language!

"What do you call someone who speaks 2 languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks 3 languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who only speaks one language? American."
Americans are often criticized by people in other countries because to be honest, we aren't all that great at learning foreign languages. But, to be fair, people usually rank their activities in priority order, giving greater weight to those things we feel we 'need' to do. In general, Americans don't feel a strong need to learn another language. Why?
The main reason is due to geography. Canada is mostly English-speaking, and Spanish, remains largely restricted to regions near the Mexican border (which is changing rapidly). The other reason is that English is quickly becoming the global language of science, commerce, and diplomacy (a title that used to be held by French). But it's different in other parts of the world. For example, here in France, my son is a Junior in high school. He started English classes, along with German, in 6th grade. He switched to Spanish in 8th grade. Most student learn at least 2 foreign languages (one of which is English), and it's not uncommon for students to pick up a third and sometimes even a fourth foreign language. Granted, Europe has many language zones packed into a relatively small space, so much of the language learning is done out of necessity. But we can learn an important lesson from the European language-learning model: if they can routinely learn additional languages, so can you!

As America becomes less isolated through travel and the Internet, geography will be less and less important. The sooner we understand that, the better. End result? We will see more and more of people learning new languages. What do you think about Americans and foreign languages? Do you feel that there are other countries, such as the UK, who are in the same linguistic 'boat'? Let me know in the comments section.
You can get started by going to www.languageroutes.com to pick up resources for learning French, Spanish and even English (for those of you teaching ESL/ESOL).