Language barrier needs to be crossed

Shelley Blundell

English is a very confusing language. Some words have no relation to their meanings, some words sound exactly the same but mean totally different things and some words just make absolutely no sense at all. Even worse, English is not spoken the same around the world – if you don’t believe me, check out a British or Australian television program sometime.

So we all know sometimes English can be confusing. Enter a foreign language into this equation and some people get really flummoxed (meaning bamboozled or “stymied” as they say in Australia). And no wonder – it seems that the first time Americans are introduced to a foreign language, they are already in high school.

In a story published in Jet magazine in 2005, Carolyn R. Durham, chair of the foreign language department and associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at North Carolina A&T State University, said she felt it was extremely important that children start learning a foreign language as soon as possible.

Why, you ask? Because it has been scientifically proven that the younger we are, the more receptive we are to learning new things. Like a foreign language.

Learning a foreign language from an early age does more than increase your linguistic capabilities – new studies are proving your knowledge of foreign languages may actually help your chances in the job market.

Various educational journals have looked at the relation between foreign language study and standardized test scores in high school students, and overall it was found that SAT and ACT test scores improved with each year of foreign language study.

Furthermore, in a 1997 article published in The New York Times, it was found that college graduates with a conversational knowledge of a second language earn 2-3 percent higher salaries than their peers, because they bring an additional service to the employment table.

As America’s economy feels the ever-increasing revolution from goods to a service industry market, it becomes more and more apparent that a lot of our business dealings are with foreign marketplaces. A lot of these marketplaces, you’ll be happy to know, speak English. This is, however, slowly decreasing. While these business professionals may still retain their knowledge of spoken English, you garner a lot more respect (and possibly a lot more business) by taking an interest in their home language.

Not to mention the influx of foreign nationals into the United States and how that affects the language composition in the average American classroom.

I know many of you at this point are feeling indignation over being forced to speak a foreign language as part of your degree requirement. I often hear phrases like “English is spoken just about everywhere, why do I need to learn another language?” or “if they’re coming here, they can learn to speak English.” But these viewpoints are narrow-minded at best.

After all, how many Americans can claim a conversational command of Iroquois or Algonquin these days?

Shelley Blundell is a senior magazine journalism and history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].