Have you heard the joke?
If you speak three languages, you’re trilingual.
If you speak two languages, you’re bilingual.
If you speak one language, you’re American!
Why is it that we require everyone to study language in school, but very few people actually have anything to show for it at the end? It seems we are teaching language, but few are learning it.
Ireland, like Canada, has two official languages: English and Irish Gaelic. All signs are written in both languages, there is an Irish-language TV station, Irish radio, and Irish is taught in school. There are even areas of the country, known as the gaeltacht, where the primary day-to-day language is still Irish.
Though interest in the traditional language waxes and wains, everyone I’ve asked has at least some small proficiency in Irish from their time at school, even if that was over twenty years ago. One reason for this is that
they start Irish classes as soon as children start school and it remains a mandatory subject all the way through until graduation. There is plenty of research out there showing that younger brains absorb language more easily and, as a friend of ours put it, “After fourteen years, sure something is bound to sink in!”
I think we should take note of this in the States: if we really want to cultivate a country full of multi-lingual citizens, we need to start teaching foreign languages earlier.
What do you think we should do to encourage better language learning in the US?
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.