70% of American citizens and 29% of UK citizens don’t have a passport. In those countries, English is the dominant language. English is also widely used in business, scientific, political and even sports circles around the globe. So it makes sense that American and British kids don’t need to make the effort to learn a foreign language. Do they?
Actually, according to a recent article from The Guardian citing reports from both sides of the Atlantic, American and British kids are at a disadvantage in the labor market if they speak English only. Employers increasingly want employees at all levels of responsibility to be able to communicate in more than one language, but it’s typically the employees from other countries who speak two, three or even four languages.
Languages are more critical these days for companies who do business in other countries, including those who source materials from overseas, have operations overseas and have overseas customers. In other words, most companies nowadays. Even if the company’s internal language is English. Language ability is something that can help a job candidate stand out. The job market seems to be getting fiercer and fiercer, and some kids will need all the help that they can get.
The reports also mentioned other reasons American and British kids, and policymakers, should get in line with more foreign language learning. For example, children who speak more than one language generally perform better than children who speak only one language. National security and politics also stand to benefit from people who have not only knowledge of other languages, but knowledge of other cultures and countries (with language being one of the best keys to help unlock that knowledge). Interestingly, they mentioned that those who do speak more than one language because of family ties overseas often don’t value their skill, which becomes a wasted talent: failing to use it outside the context of their family.
In the end, the reports pointed to needed changes in educational policy and societal attitudes to address this. But what can we do today?