Bilingualism: not only opportunity, but necessity

Bilingualism: not only opportunity, but necessity

by Lindsey Masters

Yes, most of us know how painful those foreign language requirements can be once you reach the college level. Just one more cornerstone to fit into an already-overloaded schedule. They actually expect you to learn the language, too. What a chore. Until I realized that the majority of students here have been learning English since the equivalent of elementary school.

Beginning in the primary school levels, basic rules of English are taught to the children of Mexico. They continue to learn English throughout high school years as well. I, like so many others, did not receive my first foreign language opportunity until high school. I can only imagine how much easier learning another language might have been had I started the process at a younger age.

Here, you might also meet people who have learned French or Latin. Overwhelming amounts are already bilingual (usually in English) by the time they reach 18 or 19 years of age. For those of us back in the states, we are still stuck trying to learn the basics during our last years of high school and first few years of college.

These students are not entirely aggravated with learning English either. I’ve heard many Mexicans say, “You just have to know English sooner or later.”

Which leads me to this question: Why don’t we as American students feel we have to know Spanish or another language “sooner or later”? Our country is home to a significant amount of Spanish-speaking people in particular, yet an urgency to learn another language ceases to exist.

We seem to look upon learning another language as if it’s an ancient torture ritual (although for some, it may seem to be). However, students in the Yucatan realize it must be done, so they do it. The education system here enforces the language policy.

The U.S. educational system has a much more laid back approach, never having been one to stress the need for learning anything other than English. Meanwhile, in Mexico and countless other countries throughout the world, students learn English immediately. They might even tell you more about U.S. history than you know yourself as an American citizen.

The bottom line is that the U.S. needs to make some changes in the educational system. We are so far behind many countries in language comprehension. And if projections hold true, in a few short years, Spanish-speaking citizens will become the largest minority population in the U.S. Wouldn’t it be great if you could communicate with them? Or will you just wait for them to learn English?

When you push yourself to learn another language, you open a new window of possibilities. You no longer concentrate on the differences among one another and it becomes much easier to, instead, celebrate your similarities.