More on the debate on learning second languages thanks to Barack Obama

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Image:Jan 14 06 interior Salt Lake City library 2 UT USA.JPG
It's great to see all these articles coming out about learning second languages since Barack Obama spoke on bilingualism in the United States. I thought that perhaps it would dry up in a day or two but there are still opinion pieces being written in newspapers all over the place. Here's one I found today that was well-written from the Salt Lake Tribune (but written by somebody from the Miami Herald), interesting because it has some hard numbers to go along with the editorial:

But the fact is that the percentage of American college students who become proficient in a foreign language is pathetic compared to that of other countries. According to U.S. Department of Education, out of every 100 college credits taken by U.S. students in a given semester, only 8.6 are for a foreign language.

''In sheer numbers, more American college students than ever are studying foreign languages,'' said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, a New York-based group of more than 30,000 academics that promotes the study of foreign languages, in a phone interview from France.

''But as a percentage of total college enrollments, the number of American students who take foreign languages has decreased since the 1970s.''

By comparison, a recent survey by Eurobarometer in the 27-country European Union found that 56 percent of Europeans speak at least one language in addition to their mother tongues, up from 53 percent five years ago. In Luxembourg, one of the world's richest countries, 99 percent of the population speaks a second language, while 97 percent of Slovaks and 95 percent of Latvians are proficient in a second tongue.

About 28 percent of Europeans speak two foreign languages, up from 26 percent five years ago, the survey showed.

And the conclusion is also dead on:
This is not a question of whether Americans, and especially immigrants, should improve their English-language skills.

Of course they should. But, as the Europeans and, increasingly, Asians are showing, there is nothing in the human brain that prevents children from learning a foreign language while excelling in their mother tongue.

A second language would not only make future generations of Americans more employable, but would make the United States more competitive in the world economy, more alert about what is going on in the rest of the planet and, ultimately, more secure.
Exactly. Obama's comments were about overall education and employability, not about appeasing immigrants or weakening the status of the English language. And as anybody knows, learning an Indo-European language only improves one's English.

Unrelated tangent: while looking for a good image of Salt Lake City I found the one there of their library, voted the best library in the country in 2006. It looked a lot like the Vancouver Public Library, and it turns out that it was designed by the same architect as well. See:
Designed by the same architect, the downtown Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library has a very similar design. This is clearly apparent in the main foyer and the sweeping outer facade.


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