Language education in the United States

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Language education in the United States has historically involved teaching American English to immigrants and Spanish, French, Latin, Italian or German to native English speakers. Bilingual education was sponsored in some districts, often contentiously. Japanese language education in the United States increased following the Japanese post-war economic miracle.[1] This was a period between the Cold War and World War II where Japan had the second largest economy in the world. To participate, the government increased funding to teaching Japanese in schools.[1] Chinese as a second language began to be taught more frequently in response to the reform and opening of the People's Republic of China; this has included funding from the PRC Government.[2] In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, US Senator Norm Coleman called Arabic "the next strategic language".[3]

Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs) is a designation used for languages other than Spanish, French, and German, the three most commonly taught foreign languages in US public schools.

Language as defined in education[edit]

Language is traditionally defined as a way of communicating through vocalizations, symbols, or movements.[4] In a classroom, this definition had to become stricter to define guidelines for what can and cannot be taught. Language, in this circumstance was given a set of guidelines that stated it must be productive, have the ability to produce an infinite amount of sentences that cover every available topic, and introduces, uses, and relates symbols,[5] This definition also needed to be broadened to accommodate for the thousands of different dialects in every given language. This was needed because every person possesses a unique dialect that slightly varies from others. This standard allows for the grouping of dialects into groups. These groups make up a "language" such as English, Spanish, and French.[5] Language in classrooms in generalized into one category to offer and exposes students to the basics and variety. Some classrooms may focus on one area on a "language" while others show multiple aspects of each one.[5]

Debates on language education[edit]

Language Education in the United States has brought multiple debates on the topic of teaching foreign languages to native English speakers. Cognitive arguments are used to prove that the teaching of foreign language is useful.[6] Studies have shown that over the duration of learning a second language, a student’s cognitive functions are enhanced. This includes the improvement of critical thinking, mental creativity and flexibility, and mental discipline. These results are most prominent in SAT scores.[7] Benefits such of these, that have been suggested by scientists studying cognition and second languages, have pushed for education being an education benefit. States that have adopted a type of requirement for foreign language include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.[8] The most common languages include Spanish, French, German, Latin, Russian, and Italian.[9]

In a foreign language classroom, one aspect of the curriculum is the teaching of the culture behind the language.[10] This is input into classrooms to give students a deeper meaning of the language. According to Michael Byram, to fully be able to communicate to someone with a different background, one must have insight into their lives and communication aspects.[11] It is also used to preserve a long standing set of traditions with indigenous people. A case of this was seen in High schools in Oklahoma.[12] These high schools began to offer Cherokee and other Indian languages as second languages to count toward a foreign language requirement, and thousands of students, both indigenous and non-indigenous, enroll in these classes. In North Carolina, the North Carolina House of Representatives has passed a state bill that mandates the requirement of constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina to recognize Cherokee as a language for which a student may satisfy a foreign language course requirement for degree completion. The bill was introduced by North Carolina State Senators Jim Davis and Andrew Brock and was passed in the North Carolina Senate on May 13, 2013.[13] It is predicted by the Committee on Education and the Workforce that in 2050, only 20 languages from native people around the world.[14] This was presented to Congress, which has decided on a plan of action on recovering and saving aspects of these languages and cultures by teaching them in classrooms.

Another debate considers the pragmatic aspect of language education, meaning it focuses on the political aspect of it. The reasoning for the government promoting foreign language education among native English speakers comes with concerns for national security, economic needs, and the requirement of a second language in workplaces.[15] With a remarkably diverse country, the United States workplaces have begun requiring education of a second language, and this extra education increases the chance of a person getting a job.[16] A person only able to speak English is unable to serve and communicate with customers that speak another language. Schools are more likely to teach a foreign language if there is a higher concentration of native speakers in the area. This allows these teachings to remain useful to students and help increase their eligibility for future careers. By becoming bilingual, a person is able to fully participate and understand the world. There are more people currently speaking Mandarin than English in the world, but in the United States, less than 15 percent of schools teach it.[17] This percentage shows that the United States does not fully acknowledge other languages, and hold a mono linguistic ideology.[according to whom?] In adopting this practice of solely teaching English, we are unable to communicate with 80 percent of the world.[18]


As of 2011, Tagalog was the fourth most spoken language in the United States.[19] Beginning in 1975, Tagalog began to be taught in San Diego County, with the first school where it was taught being Montgomery High School.[20] At the collegiate level, the language is taught in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "China-sponsored language programs in U.S. raise concerns, hopes". Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  2. ^ Welch, Chris (January 19, 2011). "China-sponsored language programs in U.S. raise concerns, hopes". CNN.
  3. ^ CONCORDIA LANGUAGE VILLAGES MAKES ARABIC ANNOUNCEMENT Archived 2010-09-21 at the Wayback Machine (PDF) Concordia Language Villages
  4. ^ "Definition of LANGUAGE". Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  5. ^ a b c Osborn, Terry A. (2002). The future of foreign language education in the United States. Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0313004056. OCLC 50816769.
  6. ^ Reagan, Timothy G. (2002). Language, education, and ideology : mapping the linguistic landscape of U.S. schools. Praeger. ISBN 0897897528. OCLC 890368005.
  7. ^ "Language, education, and ideology: mapping the linguistic landscape of U.S. schools". Choice Reviews Online. 41 (1): 41–0452-41-0452. 2003-09-01. doi:10.5860/choice.41-0452. ISSN 0009-4978.
  8. ^ "High School Graduation Requirements: Foreign Language". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  9. ^ "ACTFL Completes Survey of Foreign Language Enrollments in U.S. Public Secondary Schools". Foreign Language Annals. 35 (4): 477. 2002. doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.2002.tb01888.x. ISSN 0015-718X.
  10. ^ "Program Curriculum | Foreign Language | Bachelor's Degree | KU School of Education". Department of Curriculum and Teaching. 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  11. ^ Byram, Michael (2008-12-31). From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship. Bristol, Blue Ridge Summit: Multilingual Matters. doi:10.21832/9781847690807. ISBN 9781847690807.
  12. ^ "- Recovery And Preservation Of Native American Languages". Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  13. ^ Anonymous (2011-03-10). "A Chronology of Federal Law and Policy Impacting Language Minority Students". Colorín Colorado. Retrieved 2019-03-04.
  15. ^ Reagan, Timothy G. (2002). Language, education, and ideology : mapping the linguistic landscape of U.S. schools. Praeger. ISBN 0897897528. OCLC 890368005.
  16. ^ Reagan, Timothy G. (2002). Language, education, and ideology : mapping the linguistic landscape of U.S. schools. Praeger. ISBN 0897897528. OCLC 890368005.
  17. ^ McWhorter, John, 4 reasons to learn a new language, retrieved 2019-04-08
  18. ^ McWhorter, John, 4 reasons to learn a new language, retrieved 2019-04-08
  19. ^ Ryan, Camille (August 2013). Language Use in the United States: 2011 (PDF) (Report). United States Census Bureau. American Community Survey Reports. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 February 2016. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  20. ^ Lim, Ed (January 2010). "Filipino, Pilipino, Tagalog: Status of Filipino Classes in the U.S." (PDF). Language Training Center. San Diego State University. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  21. ^ Malabonga, Valeria (2009). "About the Tagalog Language" (PDF). Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved 13 May 2018.

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