If you look at nearly any industrialized country in the 21st century, you can see that the United States has clearly fallen behind in education. One of the main reasons for this is that we only require (and sometimes only make available) education in one language: English. In this entry I will try to prove that we’d all be better off learning multiple languages, like students do most everywhere else.
First of all, students who are bilingual or multilingual tend to be not only smarter, but healthier. Learning a language and being able to mentally switch back and forth between languages engages the brain in ways most people never consider. You see, in order for a bilingual person to draw on their knowledge of one language, they need to repress their knowledge of the other language. This means that more parts of the brain are active when speaking either language, and this type of executive control improves brain function and plasticity, and has been shown to slow cognitive decline (Bhattacharjee). That means diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia will occur slower and later in life for individuals who speak more than one language, and brain function before those diseases set in will be higher.
Bilingualism is also becoming increasingly important to a person’s career, and this is true for almost any line of work. Communication across cultures has become essential in fields like business (where you need to work with people manufacturing, buying, or selling your product in different countries), politics (where you need to use diplomacy with people from different nations) and medicine (where patients–especially in the U.S.–struggle to find proper medical care because they can’t understand their monolingual doctors). People who are bilingual end up making more money than monolingual people on average, and a recent study found that recruiters in Europe, Latin America, and Asia say that being bilingual is critical for success in today’s business environment (Andruss). And even if the job doesn’t necessarily require you to speak two languages, being bilingual shows you’ve worked hard at achieving a mastery of the language, and is one of the first things employers notice on a resume. It makes you stand out as a better and more flexible candidate for the job.
Furthermore, incorporating bilingual education into our current education system will actually make the entire system run smoother and more effectively. Because of No Child Left Behind and now Common Core, schools and teachers are judged on their effectiveness based on the results of standardized testing. If students don’t do well (i.e. they didn’t learn the required curriculum in time), the teacher is punished, but not the student. So not only are students forced to learn a regimented content which they often do not care about, they have no incentive to (Karp). Implementing a system of bilingual education would work towards solving a lot of these flaws in the system. For one, bilingual education requires a “safe” environment for learning. By that I mean one where the student feels at home and not afraid to answer incorrectly, as many students often are in the current system. We’ve been taught in America that a wrong answer equals failure, when really it’s just part of the learning process, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it (Malarz). Secondly, bilingual education encourages spontaneous learning and going off topic in order to keep students engaged with what’s being taught. Students are even allowed to design certain parts of the curriculum. This is because it’s been proven that students will learn better if they are learning about something that interests them, or that they can see themselves using in real life–giving them incentive to learn (Malarz). Much of the things we learn in Common Core are not interesting to students, and much of it we will never use again. Better to let us learn that things we need well than the things we don’t need poorly.
Finally, being bilingual can help bridge the gap between cultures. Just last summer, two public radio stations in Central Washington started a bilingual reporting program, i.e. reporting stories in both English and Spanish. They did this with the hope of increasing civic engagement and community awareness in monolingual Spanish and English speakers, and so far they have been quite successful (Price). I can attest to this idea of reaching out to others through language myself. As someone who speaks three languages and has travelled throughout many countries, I can recall specific times when I caused an expression of distress and confusion to turn into happy amusement when I spoke (or at least made a real effort) to speak in their native tongue. Being able to speak the language of a culture is a kind of proof that you care enough about that culture to learn about it, and makes you seem like much less of an outsider. I have no doubt that if we could all become bilingual, the world would become a healthier, more efficient, and overall a better and happier place to live.
Andruss, Paula. “How Being Bilingual Can Boost Your Career.” iSeek. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, March 2008. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.
Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “Why Bilinguals are Smarter.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 17 March, 2012. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.
Karp, Stan. “The Problems With Common Core. Rethinking Schools. Rethinking Schools, 20 Sept., 2013. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.
Malarz, Lynn. “Bilingual Education: Effective Programing for Language Minority Students.” Curriculum Handbook. ASCD, 2015. Web. 5 Oct., 2015.
Price, Jenna. “Two Stations Bridge Culture Gap with Bilingual Reporting.” NPR Extra. NPR, 29 Aug., 2014. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.