by Jessica M., age 15
My mom’s eyes blazed dangerously at my brother and me, “I don’t care if you don’t want to go. You are going to Chinese school. End of discussion.” My brother and I sensed the finality of her tone and slumped back into our car seats, grumbling to ourselves. For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have gone to Chinese school every Sunday to learn Chinese. At the time, we detested going to Chinese school, and our weekly protests became regular. Although it was part of our heritage, my brother and I didn’t understand the need to be bilingual. After all, in the United States, you could get by with only speaking English; however, after living in China for four years, my mindset changed. I was grateful for the opportunities my mother gave us to learn Chinese because of all the benefits bilingual people have; however, most Americans do not have these benefits. Despite being a melting pot where people speak over 350 languages, only 79.7 percent of Americans aged five or older can speak a second language (Romo et al.). This statistic is partially due to the US’s education system.
Although thousands of schools across the United States offer language programs, only around 20 percent of students participated in a foreign language class during the 2014 to 2015 school year (Lufkin). This is probably because, like younger me, many students don’t feel a need to learn a second language. In a country like the United States, most people can speak English, so many Americans don’t experience language barriers. Only 40 percent of Americans own a passport, so many Americans will not have an opportunity to see the importance of bilingualism (Lufkin). Nevertheless, a bigger issue may lie in our language programs, with less than 1 percent of American adults being fluent in a language that they learned in school (Friedman). I believe that this statistic is due to starting languages too late. Many students don’t start learning their second language until high school; however, studies show that although children can proficiently learn a language up to the age of eighteen, they must begin learning it by the age of ten to be as fluent as a native speaker (Trafton). These statistics put the US severely behind other European schools, where 92 percent of students are learning a second language (Lufkin). Therefore, there is a need to implement changes in our education system.
Before implementing any new systems, it is important that schools inform the parents about the benefits of being bilingual, in order to gather their support. The journey of learning a new language is a long, challenging one, and children will need their parents’ motivation. Parents should encourage their children to have an open mindset when learning the language and praise them for studying the language. Parental involvement is especially crucial during the elementary school years; studies have shown that students with two parents who support them are 52 percent more likely to enjoy school and get straight As (Pinantoan). Most importantly, parents will have established a language routine for their children to follow up to high school.
After gaining support from the parents, school districts should begin implementing the WHIP program. WHIP is a “whole hour immersion program” that would begin in kindergarten and continue throughout high school. When parents enroll their children for kindergarten, they would choose a language for their child to pursue. Schools will group the children into classes based on the language that their parents signed them up for; however, this program will not impact any of their core classes like math or science. Instead, the children will spend one hour a day fully immersed in the language that they are learning. The teachers of these classes would be native speakers who would start by teaching the children the basics of their language. As the children age and become increasingly fluent, the teachers would transition to speaking solely in that language. The WHIP program introduces students to the language early on, making it easier for them to pick up the language and speak it like native speakers. The children would also become more culturally aware and would learn to appreciate other cultures.
Communities may also institute the WHIP program to bring students of all ages together. Many students must obtain a minimum number of service hours in order to graduate. Schools could offer service hours as an incentive for proficient students to become tutors. These tutors would be able to provide the tutee with more attention than a teacher would. This tutoring system would be especially beneficial to students who are afraid to ask their teacher for help or participate in class. During tutoring, students would be able to get the help they need without any fear of judgment. This tutoring system would not only aid younger students but would also benefit the tutors. Tutors would be able to review the information that they might’ve forgotten over the years and get additional speaking practice, all while satisfying their service hour requirements.
Although setting up a program like WHIP could prove to be expensive and arduous, the benefits would outweigh the costs. For starters, studies have shown that bilingual people are offered more job opportunities and better-paying jobs. In addition, learning another language makes students’ brains more flexible and active, which helps people develop stronger thinking skills that are helpful for subjects like math. Although it would take years for the US to catch up to the rest of the world in terms of language proficiency, it is important to start implementing changes to our education system now. Although many Americans in this generation are monolingual, the future generation doesn’t need to be.
Friedman, Amelia. “America’s Lacking Language Skills.” The Atlantic, 10 May 2015, www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/05/filling-americas-language-education-potholes/392876/. Accessed 7 Apr. 2020.
Lufkin, Bryan. “What is the future of English in the US?” BBC, 8 Aug. 2018, www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180808-what-is-the-future-of-english-in-the-us. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.
Pinantoan, Adrianes. “The Effect Of Parental Involvement On Academic Achievement.” TeachThought, June 2016, www.teachthought.com/learning/the-effect-of-parental-involvement-on-academic-achievement/. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.
Romo, Harriett D., et al. “Changing Demographics of Dual Language Learners and English Learners: Implications for School Success.” Society for Research in Child Development, 2018, doi.org/10.1002/j.2379-3988.2018.tb00028.x. Accessed 20 May 2020.Trafton, Anne. “Cognitive scientists define critical period for learning language.” MIT News, 1 May 2018, news.mit.edu/2018/cognitive-scientists-define-critical-period-learning-language-0501. Accessed 8 Apr. 2020.