America’s Language Deficit
In the land without an official language, English is widely accepted. Fear comes from people believing that somehow and someway that Spanish might become the most spoken language in the US, and there is a chance. There are many immigrants to the US who speak Spanish, and Spanish is pushed in the curriculum of high school and university. However, the US speaks more languages than just English and Spanish.
Rounding out the top ten besides English and Spanish, we have Chinese and its dialects at 2.88 million people. French has 1.30 million people speaking in the US, plus another million or so speaking French Creole. Tagalog is spoken by 1.59 million people. Vietnamese is spoken by 1.41 million. German has 1.20 million people speaking with the common and other dialects, one including Texas German (and I cannot wrap my head around it). The last two of the top ten dip below one million with Korean and Hindustani. The Spanish speakers are not scary either with 37.58 million. But then again, 230 million people speak English.
The language deficit in the United States does not come from the lack of the cultures in the US, and certainly not from the lack of languages in the US, which is at least 32 (not including all the dialect and internal differences of the language).
The language deficit of the United States of America comes from the teaching methods. Many countries begin speaking another language at a young such, such as Germany starting English in fifth grade and some Koreans schools starting in kindergarten.
While there are special schools within the US that start a language at a young child’s age when the young mind can easily soak in, they are mostly private. Yet, most languages do not begin until junior high or high school. At that time, two years of a consecutive language is necessary to graduate.
For my school, I took a year of Spanish, finding that it wasn’t my thing. From ninth to twelfth grade, I took German, and it was a good choice. I have gone on to pursue a German minor in university. However, it has been hard and long, where there are many moments of frustration. While I never expected my German to be perfect and I knew frustrations would happen (like they do when you learn anything). But, starting at an older age has limited me.
For public schools, I was lucky to have two languages in my junior high, and it became even more special to have three in high school. In high school, we had Spanish, German and Japanese. In many places around the country, sometimes they are lucky to have one, which is usually Spanish. And I do not argue for German to be in every school, while it might be something I do well at, but I hope there to be more than one language.
Most countries around the world start young, aiming for English, but many countries learn multiple languages. An old German exchange student of mine was learning English and Latin.
While English might be a common language because of the superpowered United States and the reach of the British empire, even in the United Kingdom, especially England, they learn a second language. While it is not compulsory in secondary school, it is primary.
French, German and Spanish are popular in schools, but in other parts that are not England in the United Kingdom, Gaelic and Welsh are taught. United Kingdom schools maintain their language programs.
In the US, it is lucky to have a Native American language taught. At the University of Wisconsin- Superior, part of a culture class is to educate students in the Ojibwe language. At one time, one could receive minors in French, German and Spanish, while some classes in Japanese were taught. The French minor no longer exists. I am the last generation of German minors at UWS. Spanish is still taught, but it will probably disappear at some point. UWS is not a large school, but due to funding cuts, the language program will eventually cease to exist.
We cannot rely on the rest of the world to speak English. Each country, and even within the country, has its own language and culture. It is about being culturally efficient. When going to another country, as one should, the language sense should already be there. Once again, it does not need to be perfect.
When in Italy, I spoke no Italian. My life was German. While in large tourist cities, it was easy. When walking into a bakery, I had to point and put up two fingers so he knew how many I wanted. There is no need to learn every language, but to go out of your way when going to another country, to giving the even easiest questions a chance, it shows that you have put time and effort into trying.
That is all most people want. When someone speaks English to me, even broken, it brings a smile to my face, especially when abroad. It is a trade-off:
I’ll show you my language if you show me yours.
America’s language deficit desperately needs to change. It does not need to be much, but it does need to be there. There must be improvements. If America’s language deficit just changed by a million people, who just spoke English but now spoke another language, imagine how closer the world might be.