The benefits of learning more than one language far outweigh the reasons not to and learning at a younger age may be the solution. Early childhood is the best possible time to learn a second language because they have a higher chance of having a native-like fluency. According to NPR, in a United States study, covering six states and 37 districts, they have found that, “compared with students in English-only classrooms or in one-way immersion, dual-language students have somewhat higher test scores and also seem to be happier in school. Attendance is better, behavioral problems fewer, parent involvement higher.”
The United States has a long history of supporting bilingual education but in the most recent years it has become more of a political debate. There have been reports dating back to the 17th century of Polish settlers in Virginia establishing bilingual schools. The American Teachers Federation (ATF) lists several states in the past that have embraced a bilingual education. ATF reports, “By 1900, contemporary estimates were that more than 1 million elementary grade students—more than 6 percent of the 16 million elementary grade students at the time—were receiving bilingual instruction in English and another language. This is almost certainly a greater percentage than are enrolled in bilingual programs today, at most around 3 percent of the elementary grades population (prekindergarten through grade 8). The schools educating these 1 million students in 1900 form part of the American bilingual tradition, which is essentially ignored in contemporary debates over bilingual education.”
In 2010, Forbes quoted U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan: “In a shrinking world the lack of multilingual speakers constitutes a threat to our national security. To prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries, Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages. Unfortunately, only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans (and increasing numbers in other parts of the world) can converse in a second language.”
The United States does not have any national requirement for learning a second language. While most high schools offer foreign language classes, even fewer American elementary schools do the same. In 2008 only 18.5% of American elementary and secondary students reported learning a foreign language, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (PDF). In 2010, over 90% of secondary school and 73% of primary school students in Europe were learning English in the classroom, according to Pew Research Center.
Liqing Xing from Pacific Lutheran University published a dissertation on ProQuest in 2005 on bilingual education in China. He starts his abstract by recognizing English as a second language being a necessary tool to 21st century Chinese people. Similarly to Europe and The United States, China has this hot topic regarding education. Xing not only touched on what was happening in 2005 but reviewed the history of its development from different angles. His research into how technology and business growth in China encouraged the learning of a new language - especially English - was fascinating to read about.
In conclusion, around the world there are an estimated 6,500 languages (not including dialects) and to only speak one means you’re missing out on a lot of information and opportunities. If your kids have a chance to learn another language at school, they should take advantage of it! You can even learn from your kids. Traveling doesn’t always present you with the chance to learn a new language, you have to actively learn. Imagine a world where kids spoke more than one language and there was more communication and understanding around the world.