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U.S. falling behind in foreign language requirements

Parlez-vous Français? Sprechen sie Deutsch? Habla Español? あなたは日本語を話せますか? Parli italiano? 你会说中文吗? Do you speak English?

To some, these phrases may be complete gibberish; however, this may not be the case to many students in Europe who are required to learn a foreign language.

According to the Pew Research Center, the typical European student will have learned multiple languages before reaching her teenage years. Most countries in Europe mandate that students learn English on top of another language. French and German are among the most popular languages learned, followed by Spanish and Russian.

While foreign language requirements vary among the European countries, the standards to which European students are held are typically much higher than those for American students, who are not even required to study a foreign language. Due to this lack of requirements, only 25 percent of Americans adults self-reported that they could hold a conversation in another language, whereas nearly half the population in Europe can speak in another language.

Likewise, according to Chinese teacher Joyce Liu, China has a rigorous system that imposes English learning. Students as young as nine will begin learning English in school.

“We live in a global village; it is so fast, and you can communicate with anyone on the other side of the world,” says the native of China. “What will prepare our students for the future is encouraging foreign language learning.”

According to the National Center of Policy Analysis, a survey conducted in 2005, half the citizens in Europe can hold a conversation in a language other than their own. The poll surveyed people across the 25-nation European Union and was released to coincide with European Day of Languages on Sept. 26.

No national foreign language requirement is in place for the U.S.; however, CHS requires students to take at least two years of a foreign language, according to CHS counselor Jennifer Goodbody.

“Most of our students are just looking just at the requirements and fulfilling two years to graduate and three for most universities,” Goodbody says.

Languages are large commitments, and each language takes different amounts of times to learn, according to French teacher Suzanne Marden. The French language takes 500 to 600 hours to become proficient, defined as having the ability of going to France and being able to hold one’s own. This would sum up to about five years of a language, which few students pursue.

“Learning English and being immersed into it has really helped me improve my language and connect with others,” says junior Swedish foreign exchange student Maria Wessberg. “It has also motivated me to learn other languages, and has opened many opportunities for my future.”

Languages offer many opportunities to those who take the time to learn.

-Joyce Doherty

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