Every young American to become proficient in a 2nd language within a generation?

Glen Loveland at Examiner.com reports in “Foreign Language Education Targeted by Congress” that new proposed legislation in the U.S. would have American children learning a second language in school. The objective? That within one generation all Americans would be fluent in at least one other language. Loveland writes:

“On the last day of the 111th Congress, a bill sponsored by U.S. Congressional Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) was quietly introduced…. Holt and Tonko propose legislation that would allow every young American to become proficient in a second language—in addition to English—within a generation. The plan is to start language instruction in early childhood and ensure that they are able to build capacity throughout their elementary and secondary education until they gain proficiency.”

The province where I live, Alberta, tried to legislate mandatory second language classes for all students around the turn of the millennium. The Second Languages Initiative, as it was known, fell flat when there was a change in the ministry of education, following an election. In Alberta, second language study remains optional.

What would happen if an entire country – an entire, powerful, influential country – followed in the footsteps of other, smaller countries that have been mandating second language learning for years? The synergy between the “super power” of the United States and those countries who support multilingualism through policy and practice could resonate across the globe. Is that naive or a beam of hope? What do you think?


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


2 Responses to Every young American to become proficient in a 2nd language within a generation?

  1. I think that if this were to happen, it would be fabulous. There would be resistance I’m sure but the end benefit would be worth it. One thing I’ve discovered as I have dabbled in other languages, is how it opens up a different way of thinking and provides insight into another group of people. Learning a second (or third, or fourth) language is a great way to foster understanding and compassion, thereby combatting prejudice and stereotypes. I’m all for mandating second language learning!

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