The United States and Second Languages

Discussion in 'Teacher Time Out' started by orangetea, Aug 6, 2013.

  1. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    The college I went to had an extremely large international student population. One thing I noticed was that the majority these students were fluent in not only their native language, but were fluent in English as well. I understand that the students from my college are only a small sample of students from that particular country, and that there are individuals who aren't fluent in English. Most of the students I talked to who went to English schools were educated in English but also took their native language as a separate course! Thus, they were able to read and write fluently in two separate languages! I had friends who could speak 5 different languages fluently. I know in the United States we do have foreign language education in Middle School/High School, but that doesn't usually lead to fluency and is probably forgotten when the language isn't practiced. I was raised speaking another language and it makes me sad that I won't be able to raise my kids with a second language spoken at home. :(

    I know that in the United States, because English is our primary language, we won't have a system like this. Even though we are a country of many different languages, we don't have one besides English that unites us all. I was just wondering--do you think that we are missing out by not having most of our population fluent in two languages or do you think it doesn't matter because we don't really need another language besides English to get around for the most part? I hope this makes sense. :)
     
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  3. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Why do you feel you won't be able to raise your children with a second langauge at home?
     
  4. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    I am not fluent in the language spoken at my home (I have near-native comprehension but my speaking skills are terrible).My husband also grew up speaking a different language, but hi family speaks a different language from mine.
     
  5. Alizeh

    Alizeh Rookie

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    I think we are missing out to a certain extent, because I think knowing a second language fluently is a skill that many Americans lack.

    I think our foreign language education needs to be much, much better. I would love to see kids starting to learn another language in preschool or kindergarten, where they will have an easier time learning it compared to high school. However, there are two problems with this--budget and the fact that there probably aren't enough teachers with the skills to teach foreign language classes.
     
  6. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    I think one of the issues is you can go anywhere in the world, and there will be someone who speaks English before any other language. The other thing is the USA is huge and you need to travel very far before you enter a new country with a different language. And even in those countries you can get by only speaking English!

    I obviously think learning a second language is really important. I'm always so jealous of my students, most of whom are fluent in at least three languages (German, Spanish, English) and some who have an extra one- Mandarin or Russian. They have no idea how lucky they are.

    My esposo and I have already decided if we have kids in the USA we'll only speak Spanish in the house and English outside. And of course make them take a different language in school!

    Oh and here in CR, when anyone realizes I, a gringa, speak Spanish they get all impressed. They're like "that's so awesome you speak Spanish! No gringos speak Spanish" :cool:
     
  7. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Many of my students are bilingual, not so many last year but my first year almost all were. It was very jealous of how easily they could translate back and forth between the two languages. I wish I knew a second language.
     
  8. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    Ditto! I constantly tell my bilingual students how fortunate they are that they speak two languages, and I really encourage parents to read with their children in Spanish as well as in English. I had a couple of kids whose parents were teaching them to read and write in Spanish at home, and I tried to stress to those kids what an AMAZING skill that would be.

    I've often thought about placing my future kids into a dual language program. Those do exist in California, though they are not incredibly common. I would love my children to grow up speaking two languages. I guess we'll see what's available when I have school age kids.
     
  9. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Aug 7, 2013

  10. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    This is a great resource, and very interesting! Thank you!
     
  11. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    (beaming)

    So glad you like it!
     
  12. MikeTeachesMath

    MikeTeachesMath Devotee

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    I'm bilingual (English and French), and so is DH (Polish and English). He also speaks a bit of Ukranian and German. He was born and raised in Poland, though, so the exposure was obviously different than it is here in the US.

    Even after so many years here, he still slips up in English from time to time, especially with the more complex verb tenses. His mom has been fluent in English since before they moved here, but before they moved, they only spoke Polish at home. After moving, they spoke both and still do.

    Kids are still in the distant future for us, so we haven't talked about languages. I'd like them to be raised with a second language, but whether it's French or Polish doesn't matter. I'm learning Polish and he's learning French, so by the time kids come into the picture, we'll be good :lol:.
     
  13. lucybelle

    lucybelle Connoisseur

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    Trilingual!! My friend's 4 year old is trilingual- German, Spanish, English. His parents speak [Swiss]German to him at home, his friends all speak Spanish, and I speak to him in English.

    I want to learn a third language, preferably one that not many people know. So that way I can talk about people and they won't know.:rolleyes: Too many people speak English/Spanish.
     
  14. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    I've read somewhere that learning a second language early on somehow alters the brain and makes abstract thinking and problem solving easier. I can't find that research but I think it's true.

    It's amazing to be able to think in 2 languages.
    I just visited my home country a few weeks ago (have been back for 1 week) but before that I haven't gone for 9 years. During this time I had EXTREMELY limited opportunities to speak my native language (my mom and a friend would call and we'd talk for a while every few months). That was it. I have books, and sometimes I read them, but that's still different from speaking.
    I started watching a very old TV show a couple of weeks before I went, and when I got there I was able to speak without any difficulties. (that was strange because I only watched, didn't speak. The first time I went home after a year I left my country it was so hard for me to speak) Didn't have an accent, except for a friend said I don't use the emphasis and the tone the same way (Hungarians tend to 'sing' when they speak, and Americans are more monotonous compared to that, and that's how I became.
    When I shopped at the stores I was able to comprehend the German labels and descriptions on the products, and still understood some of the Arabic songs on TV.

    It's an awesome feeling just to be able to do that. :)
     
  15. WindyCityGal606

    WindyCityGal606 Enthusiast

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    My first language was French because it's what our mother spoke in the house. Our father spoke English to us when he would get home. Both my parents were fluent in each other's languages. We were raised also speaking German since we lived overseas and host nation languages were required curriculum at DODD schools. Having lived in the Windy City 30 years now, I also speak Spanish by osmosis. Although I tried, and my daughters took language classes at school, they never enjoyed it and didn't master any other languages besides English. I plan to take some classes online to brush up on my French since I don't have anyone to practice with on a daily basis. Growing up overseas, everyone spoke many languages. It was the norm....and yes,,,everyone spoke English.
     
  16. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    I remember reading about that in college. I don't know the exact research either. We also read about how most students in the US start learning a 2nd language to late to ever really become fluent in it.

    It bothers me that I took spanish classes for 7 1/2 years and retained so little of it. I understand it fairly well and can comprehend most anything in Spanish in reading, but my speaking skills are woefully lacking. My best friend even studied abroad for a semester and she feels that she still can't speak it that well either. She did say that the problem she ran into is that people would see she was American and just speak to her in English, so she wasn't really that "immersed" in it. With my education class schedule I didn't have a whole semester to study abroad. My college tried to set up a summer trip to Mexico several times, but it was always cancelled due to safety concerns. I wonder if it would have even made that much of a difference.
     
  17. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Virtuoso

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    I've had a few students fluent in a second language. One was fluent in German because her mother is a native German speaker. Another was a native French speaker, but he spoke English well. My favorite was the one who spoke Spanish. He picked it up while working with migrant farm workers on his grandpa's farm in the summertime.

    My college roommate's oldest daughter picked up Japanese amazingly fast when she was a toddler. He dad was struggling to learn essential Japanese because he works for a Japanese company and goes to Japan often. She was learning it effortlessly. She's quite the traveller.

    I took French and Italian in high school and college. I can read French some, but can't write or speak. Both are not practical in my area. I'd have used Spanish or Japanese.
     
  18. alioxenfree

    alioxenfree Rookie

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    I laughed out loud at this one! I get this in the United States! I'm African-American with no Latino heritage (that I know of) and I'm fluent in Spanish. Often when native Spanish speakers find out I'm not Cuban, Puerto-Rican, Dominican (the most common assumptions) or Mexican (my students' most common assumption), they are shocked. One of my student's mothers was so impressed that I spoke Spanish because "not many of you speak Spanish" she had her husband come meet me on his day off to see it for himself. Okaaaaay.

    Luckily my elementary school offered a choice of French or German. I started studying French in 2nd grade and then switched to Spanish in high school because it's more useful. My French helped me immensely when I learned Spanish. I can still read French, but my speaking and listening is very rusty. I can read some Portuguese and Italian too, because they are so close to Spanish.

    I don't know if our country is missing out because we don't emphasize learning a foreign language, but I think that learning a foreign language has a lot of benefits to each individual. Learning other languages is just not valued as much here, because as others have said, we don't need to learn another language.
     
  19. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    I wish I was bilingual! I took a few years of Spanish, and though I can read enough of it to comprehend what is written and can understand a little of the spoken language, I can't speak past the very basics. I would love to learn French!

    I think one of the reasons why other countries are so successful with teaching English is because they start as soon as students enter into school (at least that's what I heard from a foreign exchange student). I wish we had that as an option for students. We have dual language classes, but it's not based on who wants to do it.
     
  20. xjr

    xjr Guest

    Dec 28, 2013

    There's nothing like learning another language to appreciate the diversity of cultures and many different ways of seeing the world. I remember going on exchange to the Netherlands for study, and the university published a chart with how many languages the students spoke ...and the vast majority spoke 3 or more! Very humbling...
     
  21. AdamnJakesMommy

    AdamnJakesMommy Habitué

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    I did some of my master's research on the NEED for adequate foreign language opportunities in American schools. The benefits of learning a second language are many.

    Firstly, learning a second language dramatically improves native language speaking and writing abilities--for example, even though I was a 4.0 student in high school it wasn't until I took college German and focused heavily on German grammar that I TRULY spoke English correctly and adequately. With the emphasis common core places on literacy throughout the content areas and English speaking and writing skills, it is terribly ironic that there isn't much emphasis on expanding foreign language opportunities and increasing the "weight" foreign language has in American curricula.

    Secondly, the emphasis on 21st century skills should automatically translate to increased foreign language access and quality of instruction. Granted, English is the PRIMARY language spoken on the international stage, however it cannot be overstated how having multiple language spoken within a company or international organization increases efficiency and clientele. Moreover, some leading countries in the world (China and Russia for example) have very low rates of English proficiency.

    Thirdly, going right along with the second strand, having knowledgeable speakers of various languages improves national security. After 9/11, the need for Arabic translators was NOT met given the demand. It is imperative that there be sufficient quantities of speakers of various languages, particularly those which are national security hinges.

    Fourthly, there are medical benefits of language acquisition. Studies have shown that bilingual speakers have increased synapses in the brain and on average stave off dementia and Alzheimers by FOUR years.

    I advocate for INCREASED access to foreign languages in schools: not just Spanish I and II, but access to several languages and the desired end goal should be intermediate-advanced speaking on the part of our students. Having a plethora of languages available will also allow students to pick the language they prefer and increased the likelihood that students will be personally vested in their studies.
     
  22. Glühwürmchen

    Glühwürmchen Rookie

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    (Warning: future language teacher)

    Yes, I think that our kids miss out on a lot by not having a better exposure to foreign languages. Europeans have a greater need because of proximity to other languages and English being the global language, but that's no excuse. Every kid should take a language at some point.

    Part of the problem is how language study is approached in most places. People treat it like something that has to be learned, but it's actually a natural, unconscious process of associating sound to meaning (after all, everyone learned their first language). I've read a lot of research about language acquisition and how amazing teachers apply these findings to their classrooms. I speak about 3-5ish languages, and to me, these things just make sense. You have to learn a language in context. Grammar is important, but it should not be the crux of the course like it is in most places today. Being the language nerd I am, I love grammar, but from watching my peers I know that it is not the best way to learn.

    I hope I explained that all clearly enough (and certainly didn't mean anything combatively!!) :) I'm passionate about it and I can't wait to help things change for the better.
     
  23. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I don't think it's a problem, really, but there are advantages of speaking multiple languages.
     
  24. AdamnJakesMommy

    AdamnJakesMommy Habitué

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    Love the name by the way, I am adding certification for K-12 German and will bide my time until something opens up for German in a surrounding district by teaching math...:)

    Anyways, I am a total grammar junkie too and I've seen a less-grammar focused approach in college and it does NOT work, in my experience. I actually think conversational instruction is inadequate. Grammar is the framework for building a language when it's a 2nd or 3rd language, and unless you are in an immersion program or some program that allows you CONSTANT exposure to a language, students will never get beyond elementary speaking abilities in languages unless it is heavily grammar and syntax-concentrated.

    I assume by your name, that you are a student of German. You know how important (and flexible) Wortstellung is in German and how heavily dependent upon case the language is. Case determines who acts as subject, direct and indirect objection, not position in the sentence. Without grasp of these concepts and constant reinforcement, conversation will only hinge on basic, present-tense conversational phrases. For advanced language instruction and acquisition, heavy emphasis must be placed on Grammatik and Wortstellung.
     

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