Why I Wish Public Schools Taught a Second Language Earlier

American society promotes a certain monolingualism which is quite interesting to consider due to the nature of our country as being one made up of immigrants. The expectation for everyone in America to speak English runs rampant. Despite promoting monolingualism, most public schools at the K-12 level in America require at least two years of a foreign language in order to graduate. These required two years do not occur until middle school for some students and in most cases, a foreign language a required part of the curriculum and required only in high school. This delay in teaching a second language contributes to the low level of retainment of a foreign language and is the reason why I wish public schools taught a second language earlier.

Early exposure to a second language aids acquisition significantly. While it is still possible to learn a second language later in your life, the longer you wait, the harder it is for your brain to adapt. The longer you wait the more likely you are to continue pushing learning a new language off. As well as pushing learning a new language off, the younger you begin learning a second language the easier it is for you to recognize mistakes (especially grammatical ones) in your second language. This was found in a study of the EEG signal of native and non-native German speakers. The native speakers were more likely to recognize the grammatical errors as well as those who had begun to learn the language at a younger age.

Additionally, it is essential to start learning as soon as possible in order to get as close to native speaking and writing capability as possible. In fact, “Earlier this year, a study at MIT based on an online quiz of nearly 670,000 people found that to achieve native-like knowledge of English grammar, it is best to start by about 10 years old, after which that ability declines.” It is essential for children to begin learning a language other than their native tongue as soon as possible in order for them to achieve the highest proficiency in their second language as possible.

I was thankfully lucky enough to begin learning French at a young enough age in order for it to stick with me. I grew up in a house which only spoke one language, English, and the opportunity to learn another one was fascinating to me. I never anticipated that taking a required French class in 8th grade would lead to me eventually minoring in the language and working to become fluent in it. I was lucky enough to begin learning a foreign language at an age that it clicked for my brain but this is not the case for most high schoolers. In fact, even just mere exposure to a non-native tongue at an earlier age can allow for easier acquisition of the language later in life. As learners get older and older, this exposure becomes less and less important and learning a second language relies more on hard work than the pieces suddenly clicking in your brain.

By instituting learning a second language into public school curriculum at an earlier age, we would promote a society which has a better understanding of the culture of other countries and a better understanding of individuals who are different than ourselves. It is this understanding which would allow for us to easier view people from other countries and cultures not as individuals who are different than us but instead as human beings in their own right. When we are able to recognize that despite our differences, we are all human, we allow for a more globalized and empathic society which is something which I think is a very worthwhile endeavor.