In a Jan. 4 New York Times article, a New York City chancellor at a Bronx school said she believed that Mandarin Chinese should be taught in schools. As Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, The Journal thought this was a sound suggestion — after all, most countries of the world teach at least two languages.
However, in America, a different picture is painted of the grand scheme of things. Many people believe that English is the supreme language and it’s the only one that should be taught. As the Bronx chancellor decreed, “Mandarin’s the new Spanish.”
However, with foreign language programs being the second most likely program to be cut in public schools according to CNN, the likelihood of students having a chance to learn any foreign language, let alone Mandarin, is growing slimmer. This problem reaches not only to public schools but also a wider range of students at the college level.
During the first weeks of school here at Webster University, classes were canceled for under-enrollment. An average of three of those classes are foreign language programs. The problem at Webster is a lack of student interest, not budget cuts. A major selling point Webster seems to thrust home is it’s creating global citizens. However, The Journal hasn’t met many “global citizens” who are not at least semi-fluent in two or more languages.
An integral part in learning another language is that how the language is spoken is very indicative of the culture of origin. In learning a language, a student must understand that culture. In another New York Times article from August 2010, the reporter explained how a language can literally change how a person thinks and how their language changes the way a person communicates with others. These are critical skills to have for any global citizen.
In recent months, a heated debate over general education requirements has opened up amongst faculty members. One of the main topics of discussion is a language requirement for all Webster students with a possibility of mandatory studying abroad. While this idea is one The Journal could potentially get behind, we’d like to go back to another New York Times opinion column from Dec. 30, 2010. While the opinion piece really pointed out that Americans should not learn Chinese but instead focus on a more imminent language barrier — English.
Americans barely know their native language.
What really needs to be the focus of American education is to truly learn our own language, our own culture and learn about accepting other cultures.
This way, the love of language and other cultures will be something students at Webster and beyond will want to learn about them. Students can’t be forced to learn a language they have no interest in, but perhaps a change in how we educate our students rather than what we educate them in is in order.