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March 11, 2021

World Language Programs Are Essential

Given that budget cutting is contentious in less challenging times, deciding what to cut at this pivotal juncture is a real conundrum for administrators. When budgets tighten, World Language has always been a vulnerable discipline; this is no different now. Eliminating or reducing K-12 World Language programs now would be counterproductive and detrimental. It would dilute students’ readiness to contribute to and succeed in a world united by COVID-19 and divided by economic and culture wars.

In an ideal world, or even in one sans pandemic, language study would be a central part of the K-12 curriculum. Too often, however, it is considered expendable. Now is the time to acknowledge and capitalize on the impact of mastering a second language on students: it strengthens academic achievement and develops their global mindset. Research-based data supports keeping languages off the chopping blocåk. In addition to strengthening cognitive functions, academic achievement, and enhanced student learning across curricula, languages build bridges that connect people and create global understanding.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is among many sources that state that bilingualism supports intercultural and multicultural education. In their position paper, Unesco Guidelines on Intercultural Education, it states: “Language is one of the most universal and diverse forms of human cultural expression, and perhaps even the most essential one. It is at the heart of issues of identity, memory, and transmission of knowledge.” They add, ” Linguistic competencies are fundamental for the empowerment of the individuals in democratic and plural societies, … and encourage openness to cultural exchange.”

Another affirmation comes from Dr. Wade Davis, a bestselling author and anthropologist. In Importance of Language, he states: “Every language is a watershed of thought, an ecosystem of social, spiritual, psychological, and ecological possibility.” Knowing a language leads to embracing cultural diversity.

There is abundance of research that maintains how languages positively impact higher academic achievement, enhance problem-solving skills, creativity, and flexible thinking. In the NYT article by Claudia Dreyfus, The Bilingual Advantage, cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok states: “Until about the 1960s, the conventional wisdom was that bilingualism was a disadvantage. Some of this was xenophobia. Thanks to science, we now know that the opposite is true.”

Victorian Marian, Ph.D., and Anthony Shook, in their work The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual, offer the following findings: “The cognitive, neural, and social advantages observed in bilingual people highlight the need to consider how bilingualism shapes the activity and the architecture of the brain, … especially since the majority of speakers in the world experience life through more than one language.”

Besides benefiting individuals, bilingualism helps our economy and national security. In The Contributions of Language to the Economic Interests of the United States, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences determines: “In addition to the direct impact of language on the economy, as measured by the outputs and employment of the language enterprise, and the indirect leverage that the language enterprise has on the economy (and global security) the human capital of language and culture skills is increasingly important to the broader economy. Language skills are vital to success in an interconnected world, and they are fundamental to US competitiveness and security.” And later, Americans are Losing Out Because so Few Speak a Second Language.

The coronavirus highlighted that being interconnected globally is a reality, not an ideological choice. Now more than ever, it is imperative to raise awareness of the need for language study. Attaining a more profound knowledge of languages and cultures fosters the worldwide collaboration. Language learning is the pivotal medium to accomplish global understanding and communication; the bridge it builds can traverse all borders.

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