Despite not having a unified national language, some Americans can be seen in viral videos telling other people to “speak our language.” Foreign languages shouldn’t be a source of fear, anger or resentment. We should respect others who speak a different language than us.
The United States Census Bureau reports that over 350 languages are spoken within the country.
Obscure languages aren’t just present in small and isolated areas of the country, many are spoken in big cities like Los Angeles or New York City. The reported “smaller language groups” still consist of thousands of people, whether it’s Romanian, Swahili or anything in between.
Despite the large number of other languages, many fixate on Spanish speakers as a point of contention.
According to CNN, roughly 41 million U.S. residents speak Spanish. This is a surprisingly large chunk of the 572 million total Spanish speakers, as reported by the Spanish government’s Cervantes Institute. While14.3 percent of Spanish speakers in America doesn’t seem like much, the institute also reports that America has more Spanish speakers than the entirety of Spain.
Before hollering that they should learn English, it’s important to note that 11.6 million are already bilingual in English and Spanish, with more of them learning English each day. Some might see this as a win, but I see this as a very one-sided victory.
Americans often express the need for others to conform to their preference and forget that it’s far easier to meet in the middle. English can be one of the hardest languages to learn. It’s difficult for many reasons including its origins are mixed and it has absurd spellings, according to Psychology Today.
The problem isn’t the language itself, it’s the perception of the language and its speakers.
The Pew Research Center reported in 2018 that the United States is far behind its European counterparts when it comes to language education. Pew also reports that foreign language learning begins for Europeans between the ages of 6 and 9, and students are fluent by the end of their time in primary school.
In contrast, most American schools don’t offer foreign language classes until high school. According to Pew, 20 percent of Americans are learning a foreign language, which seems like a lot until compared to the 92 percent of European students.
Many students don’t understand the importance of language. Students think, “It’s just a graduation requirement — get in, take two years, and you’re done.” They leave it in the classroom and never apply it to their lives.
It’s sometimes necessary and can be used in the real world.
I used to put down my torch and say, “I can’t change how high schoolers feel, but at least college kids realize that they’re paying for these classes.” By simply giving up, I used to contribute to the problem.
At the end of the day, I can’t tell anyone what to do, but what I can do is remind people of a few things.
Two, being bilingual benefits your brain, according to Psychology Today. Learning another language requires a lot more of the brain to be in use than when speaking a native language.
Three, understanding a language and a culture ultimately offsets misconceptions. Good people make mistakes and are always uninformed on some things, but being the one person who knows can make all the difference. It’s important to educate other people on the small things even if they don’t want to learn an entire language.
Apps, websites and universities all have resources for those looking to learn a foreign language or culture. Some are free, but the more reputable and detailed apps typically aren’t.
Apps like Duolingo allow individuals to practice a language in short intervals. Five minutes put into practicing a foreign language is five minutes spent appreciating that language and culture.