Bilingualism: How the US Compares to Other Countries
How does America compare to other countries when it comes to language acquisition? The answer is complicated; it changes based on age, available programs and the lifestyle of each learner. Here’s an overview of how bilingualism in the US compares to other countries.
The Age of the Student
There are several factors that ultimately determine how many bilingual individuals there are within a given country’s population. One of the main factors is how young a student starts learning a second language.
Between the ages of two and eight, the brain is primed for language acquisition. A young child is able to separate two languages, learn without stress over pronunciation and retain hundreds of words. For example, a child born into a family with bilingual parents and grandparents will be exposed to two or more languages early on in life and as a result, will have an easier time learning both.
Some schools and language programs take advantage of this early ability by offering bilingual preschools and kindergartens. In Shanghai, international schools teach children as young as two. Classrooms often feature a foreign and local teacher so that the students can hear both languages from a native speaker.
Other parts of the world introduce new languages later on, treating a second language as an elective, rather than a core subject. In Japan, students don’t start English classes until they are in Jr. High and then only spend a few hours a week on the language. The focus in these groups generally involves reading, writing, and perfecting grammar.
Changes in American Schools
Bilingualism in the US is different as there are various school systems with different structures and objectives. Many US school systems have seen a drop in foreign language instruction since 2008. One estimate states that only one in five American students is enrolled in a foreign language program even though the demand for bilingual workers within the US is on the rise. It’s an unfortunate trend, but many incredible individuals are working to get American kids on track.
Certain schools are going against the this downward trend. Instead, they are working to help get young students excited about foreign language and emphasize communication as a basis for learning. Students write emails, have debates and make presentations using their second language. Though this approach is not a standard for many schools, it has shown to be successful among those participating.
Beyond the Classroom
When taking on a new language, it is only natural to be interested in traveling to regions where the new language is spoken. If the opportunity presents itself, it can be very advantageous to do so. In Scandinavian countries, there is a big focus on crossing borders. Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes love to visit Spain, Portugal, Italy and England often. Children from these countries grow up with a lot of encouragement from parents and friends to speak Spanish and English. As a result, they often master other languages, all while retaining their native tongues.
More programs outside of school are also available to students of all ages. HSA is one of several online Spanish programs that learners of any age can use to learn or improve their Spanish. HSA strives to promote bilingualism in the US and around the world.
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