Say ‘Hola’ to Learning a New Language

By Mary Onishi

A report by the Modern Language Institute revealed that American enrollment in foreign language courses in higher education is declining.

Chairperson of the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures at Texas Tech University Erin Collopy said one reason enrollment rate in foreign language courses is dropping is because students don’t see the necessity of learning a language.

“It doesn’t really have an immediate pragmatic application,” she said.

However, Collopy said learning a language is very important to understanding another culture and another mindset outside of your own world.

“The idea that everybody speaks English is simply not true,” she said. “So, you are closing yourself off in a lot of ways by not learning another language.”

Collopy said learning a foreign language helps you better understand your own language and improve your communication skills. She said by better understanding how another language is structured, you become more sensitive to language structure in general.

“Your brain grows as you learn a language,” she said.

A research study conducted at the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy revealed that parts of the soldiers’ brains grew in calculable size after learning a new language.

Brenda Jobes works as the assistant principal at Ramirez Elementary School, a Lubbock elementary school that offers a dual-language program.

Jobes said there are cognitive benefits to learning another language such as increased problem-solving abilities.

“Students in dual-language outperform their peers,” she said.

Collopy and Jobes both said it is easier to acquire a third or fourth language if you have already acquired a second one.

“There’s no downside to being bilingual,” Jobes said.

Hannah Deeter, a French major and German minor at Texas Tech, said most Americans don’t share her interest in languages.

“Even though America is very diverse, I feel like people just don’t really see the need to learn more foreign languages,” she said.

According to an article by the Pew Research Center, studying a foreign language for at least one year is mandatory in over 20 European countries. Meanwhile, no foreign-language mandate exists at any level of education in the U.S.

Jobes said the U.S. is lagging behind in foreign language education compared to the rest of the world.

“The norm in the rest of the world is multilingualism and here – really – it’s monolingualism,” she said.

Jobes said the best time to learn a new language is between the ages of 4 and 11, when children are more impressionable.

“Most programs in the U.S. introduce languages in middle school and high school when that critical window is over,” she said.

Collopy said, in an ideal world, every American would grow up bilingual and college education would serve as a means of refining those languages instead of teaching them.

She said, however, the current graduation requirements for Texas are either two years in high school of the same language or one year in college of the same language.

“Why is it a requirement?” she said. “I would put it this way: Why isn’t it more of a requirement?”

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