Having lived in China as well as other countries around the world for some time, one thing stands outs: Everyone studies English. Even if their English skills are not yet that high, they still put in the effort to study. They even start out as children and continue to learn all through the course of their education. Learning a language seems to be important to non-native English speakers, and I’ve seen this desire in many Chinese speakers.
So why don’t many people in the U.S. seem to care if their children learn a foreign language or not?
Whenever I go back to visit friends and family and talk about my own Chinese language learning and encourage people to do the same, I get a very similar response from many of them: “Cool, but what good would it do me? Everyone else learns English.” While the U.S. education system does incorporate foreign language learning, compared to most other countries, it is quite minimal, and only a small number of students will come out of it with a communicable second language skill. Most of the time, this language is Spanish, which has led to a certain oversaturation of Spanish in the U.S. market. “High priority” languages like Chinese, Russian, and Arabic are often ignored.
To an extent, this attitude of English centralism is understandable. If more of the rest of the world speaks English, why bother learning Chinese or some other second language? My response is always this: building up an understanding of other cultures, creation of opportunities, and deeper self-improvement.
Culturally speaking, there is no better way to understand and connect with another culture than to learn its language. Sure, most of the world might be learning English, but that also means that while they might be able to learn and take advantage of business, trade, and other opportunities with English speaking countries, it also means that it can be more difficult for the reverse to take place. From a purely economic perspective, this is a major failing. You will be unable to connect with a culture, which then makes business difficult and limits how you interact with the camp of the one who has learned your language and your way of communication. The other person will have the advantage, not you.
This ties into the opportunities that will be made available to you. If you want yourself or your child to get ahead, learning a foreign language opens many doors. When I see that parents are willing and dedicated to put money into their children’s second language skill, I know that they’re making a solid investment in the future. If, from a cultural and business perspective, language can open doors, the more you invest in these opportunities from an early age, the better it can be for you individually, and the more the U.S. education system would improve as a result.
Finally, from a self-improvement angle, learning a second language like Chinese opens your brain to many more ways of thinking and seeing the world. It not only can grant health benefits in brain development, but it also can expand one’s perspective of others. Since language is tied to culture, this angle helps one to see the world from totally different culture’s vision and point-of-view.
Unfortunately, many of my friends often still see things through a mono-language filter and don’t always listen to these points I have made. If more people did, however, our own growth would be like China’s, and business and job opportunities might greatly improve, not to mention the educational system. Hopefully, as time goes by, this will change for the better, as who doesn’t want the best for our children’s future?