This article by retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry is featured in the June 23 issue of Inside HigherEd. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on Language Learning. He is concerned about the new federal budget which eliminates the funding for language learning in the Department of Education. Fluency in other languages is a national asset that cannot be directly measured, so it is always a tempting target for budget cutters. Now that we have a President who speaks in a grade school vocabulary, is anyone surprised? If I were in charge of education policy for Texas, every public school student would be required to take six years of Spanish in elementary school. Since the goals of our stated legislators are (1) to continually cut taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals and (2) to return our state to the imagined halcyon 1950s Ozzie and Harriet culture, I’m sure they will never do this.
About 300 to 400 million Chinese students are learning English. About two thirds of European adults know at least two languages. The Swiss probably know three or four. When I visited Switzerland in 1990, the TV stations alternated broadcasting for fifteen minutes in German, French, Italian and English. All the street signs are in those four languages (not part of the article). Only one in five Americans know another language. If I set Texas education policy every school student would be required to take Spanish from grades one through six, but this is never going to happen in our state. The economic advantages of a bilingual Texas would be huge. I use the Anki flashcard app and the free Cerego Spanish and French apps to study Spanish and French. These apps turn my language learning into a fun game. Learning another language engages parts of the brain that are not otherwise engaged. It is an especially good thing to do as you age.
The Rosetta Disk is a 2 cm size pendant you can wear around you neck. On one side is an archive of 1,000 languages. You have to read them with a microscope set to 100 times magnification. On the other side are inscribed 1,000 page of important information such as vocabulary lists in 719 languages. Be prepared to spend about $1,000 if you want one.
This article is based on a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. According to it, language education is dwindling at every level. Summary of some of the important findings of the study:
- About 20% of the US population speak a language other than English at home, but just 10% of the population is proficient in a language other than English.
- Nearly two thirds of foreign language speakers speak Spanish, but about 350 languages are spoken in this country.
- By the third generation descendants of immigrants only one in ten can speak their heritage language fluently.
- The share of secondary schools teaching other language is steadily declining.
- At the college and university level Spanish is the most commonly studied world language, accounting for 54% of all student enrollments in 2013.
- The study of languages from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia has grown since the early 1990s.
Personal Note: The improvements in Google Translate and apps such as Anki, Cerego, and DuoLingo make it fun and much easier than ever to learn a foreign language. I am constantly looking up a word on Google Translate.
They are, in no particular order:
This free version of this app supports 12 Languages. The paid version, which costs $2.99, supports 42. I downloaded it on my smart phone, and it works fine. The free version allows you to translate only a few sentences. Today it will not let me upgrade. Surely they will get that fixed soon.
I am currently studying French. Years ago I spent 11 years learning how to read that language, and had a large enough vocabulary to read articles in French magazines. I have forgotten almost all my French though. I have found three free apps for language learning you might want to consider. Anki is a free flash card building app. It runs on PCs, Macs, and many mobile devices, including those running the Android platform. You can add images to your cards and record audio. The best thing about this app is that the words on your flash cards go into a database. Anki keeps a record of which cards you study each day and creates a schedule of the cards you need to study each day. There is an app for the iPad, but it costs $24.99. Anki is available for many languages.