I was raised speaking three languages: Hindi, Gujarati, and English. After moving to the United States at the age of five, my Hindi has become pretty weak (I have to think at length before I speak and my vocabulary is limited to what I see in Bollywood movies), my Gujarati is conversational, and, of course, English has become my primary language.
Beginning in elementary school, I learned Spanish and I continued to learn it in high school through advanced classes. Currently, I am minoring in Spanish in college. Personally, I enjoy learning a different language and view it as an open door that allows me to communicate with another part of the world.
However, the majority of children in the United States are not open to learning a new language and are not encouraged to pursue it to fluency. High schools that require only two years of basic classes in a foreign language are fooling themselves if they believe it is sufficient. Even after kids take four years of foreign language classes, most hardly pass examinations (that is, if they take IB or AP classes which have outside examinations). I believe this can be attributed to a combination of several factors: cultural ignorance and society’s indifference concerning learning languages, lack of student motivation, and, in some cases, substandard teaching. Children around the world grow up learning two to three languages in addition to English. They are much better equipped and well-prepared to meet the demands of interconnected and interdependent nations as well as the global economy. They also understand the value of diversity, culture, and the differences that make us unique.
So, if you’re a student, consider pursuing a second (or a third) language. If you’re a parent, encourage your kids to learn another language and cultivate open-mindedness and an appreciation for cultural diversity.