The National Imperative for Language Learning
Over the years, our education system has frequently addressed societal changes. As immigration transformed U.S. cities, “assimilation” became the goal. The civil rights movement’s mantra became “access.” Since A Nation at Risk , our commitment to excellence and equity has targeted “achievement.”
Then the Internet and rapid globalization introduced new challenges. In matters of economic development, national security, and environmental sustainability, what we do as a nation and in our everyday lives is increasingly, inextricably intertwined with what governments, businesses, and individuals do beyond our borders. To prepare our youths to thrive, our educational agenda must once again adapt, this time to nurture “global competence.”
Yet global competence is an area where most American classrooms are falling short. Consider a class of children entering kindergarten in the United States. While their classes may include students from around the world, global issues and cultures will not be regularly woven into their schoolwork. They will probably study only one language—English—until high school, even though they would learn a second language far more easily if they began in elementary school. Meanwhile, 20 out of 25 industrialized countries start teaching world languages in grades K-5, and 21 countries in the European Union require nine years of language study. International business leaders are warning that American graduates may be technically competent but are increasingly culturally deprived and linguistically illiterate compared with graduates from other countries competing...
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