There is an old joke that gets passed around in Europe that goes like this:

If you speak three languages, you are trilingual.

If you speak two languages, you are Bi-lingual.

If you speak one language, you are American.

Why is it that the country that boasts the most ethnically and linguistically diverse population in the world so linguistically backward?  The only people who really speak more than one language over here are immigrants and their children.  By the third generation most of them are as linguistically bereft as the rest of us.  Hell, we don’t even bother to speak our OWN language correctly!  In Germany all students are expected to learn two languages in addition to Deutch (that’s the German word for their language.)  It is a phenomenally rare thing to find a public elementary school that offers a second language in the U.S.  Why?  It is in those years before they become a teen that they are most capable of picking up a second or third language.  By the time they hit high school, forget about it.  They’ll do the minimum to get a passing grade then never use it again.

I took German in high school, and I had better than average pronunciation.  This came in handy when I joined the army and was shipped off to Germany.  Of course I was lost when I was eventually stationed in Southern Belgium where everybody spoke French, but that’s another story (or rant.)

Currently, our education system just plain sucks!  Here we are, the richest most powerful country IN THE WORLD, and we can’t be bothered to even learn a second language.  It’s no wonder the rest of the world community looks down on us like we were a bunch of barbarians.

This has been a Wolf Rant.



One Response to “Language”

  1. Sparrowkawk Says:

    Hi Wolf,
    I was reading some older blogs of yours when I came across this one. I have to make a correction about one point:
    whether a German student has to pick 2 foreign languages at school or not depends on the type of school the student attends.

    2 languages are normally required at the type we call “Gymnasium.” Which has nothing to to with a phys.ed.-focused school, as the name may suggest in the English language. Since it’s difficult to compare the school types of different countries because of their different school systems, I find it hard to give you an appropriate equivalent in the English language. This applies to the USA more than to other coutries. Since you were in Belgium, you may have come across the French “lycée”, which is something like our “Gymnasium.” The British English term that comes somewhere close to it is “grammar school.”
    I attended such a school, and yes, we had to learn languages until grade 10 (this type – for the other readers – allows you to continue until grade 12 (it used to be grade 13 in some German states, but this is undergoing a change at the moment), and graduating from a “Gymnasium” after grade 12/13, gives you a certificate called “Abitur,” which allows you to study at German univerities). I even hat 3 languages, apart from German: English (at grade 5; mandatory), Latin (at grade 7; we could choose between Latin and French), and French (at grade 9; this was optional). English and French were my 2 majors (maths and history were my two other subjects in the “Abitur” exam), and I kept Latin until grade 11.
    The “Gymnasium” type is normally for those who had a good or a very good performance at Grundschule (elementary school; grades 1-4 in Germany).

    Those who are less gifted or less good attend other school types that make you graduate at grade 10. They focus, as far as I know, on different contents to be taught within the subjects, and, if I’m not mistaken, only English (at grade 5) is mandatory, though you can pick French (or another 2nd language, if offered) at grade 7 if you want to. It’s not, however, mandatory, if I recall correctly.

    Why foreign langiages aren’t taught on a widespread basis in the US is a good question. To be frank, I’m not an expert on what is taught in the US, so I can only guess:

    – there is only little demand, since most US-Americans stay where they are (or relocate to somewhere within the US or move to Canada, which is, apart from Québec, English-speaking). Therefore, it’s not necessary to learn a 2nd language for most Americans.

    – since there is only little demand, there is only little supply. Those who want become teachers tend to prefer different subjects which are considered more important, such as English (of course), maths or sciences… and they normally didn’t pick a 2nd language either, when they were students. Which makes them not really qualified to teach another language but English ;).

    – then again, I wonder if some kind of arrogance is also part of it all or not. I suspect a mentality like, “We are native to THE international language of trade and politics, so why should we even bother to learn a 2nd language… learn ours, which you doing, anyway…. so why should we wate time and resources…”
    To put it clearly, this (suspected) arrogance is not unique to the USA, but it’s in the English-speaking world in general, with few exceptions.

    Greetings from the Old World 😉

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