Many European children learn two foreign languages ​​at the age of 9. Most Americans? Zero — Quartz


It may be time to put an end to the stereotype of the French refusing to speak English.

In fact, the statistics point in the opposite direction. According to the Pew Research Center, almost all countries in Europe require students as young as six to learn a foreign language, usually English. Even more impressively, more than 20 European countries (including France) require students to learn two foreign languages ​​at school for at least one school year.

In 2010, more than 90% of secondary school students and 73% of primary school students in Europe were learning English in the classroom, according to Pew’s analysis of Eurostat data.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the United States has no national requirement for learning a second language. While most high schools offer foreign language classes, only 15% of U.S. elementary schools do the same. And in 2008, only 18.5% of U.S. elementary and high school students reported learning a foreign language, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages ​​(PDF).

The disparity may be due to the fact that English has consolidated its role as the language of the global economy in the 21st century. It is therefore not surprising that the only two countries in Europe which do not impose foreign language courses are Ireland and Scotland, where the first language is also English.

Marty Abbott, executive director of the ACTFL, gives another reason for the language disparity. “When you look at Europe, they are geographically closer to each other, and now with the European Union, it is advantageous for Europeans to know other languages ​​because of employability within the Union European,” Abbott told Quartz.

Pew Research Center

Europeans know their languages

English speakers may soon find themselves wishing they had learned another language, says Abbott, who speaks Spanish and was once a Latin teacher. “We know it’s a fundamentally different world now and it’s time for Americans to wake up because English isn’t necessarily the lingua franca when you leave the United States,” she said.

Either way, the benefits of learning a foreign language go beyond just being able to speak at an international business meeting. Being bilingual comes with a multitude of cognitive gains. Researchers found that bilingual people did better on standardized tests, for example, and were more perceptive of their surroundings, which helped them differentiate insignificant from significant details.

And, says Abbott, “of course, there’s the level of personal satisfaction” gained from being able “to build relationships with people who speak that language.”


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