In many European countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and France, learning English as a secondary language is a requirement for young students. There are 25 countries in Europe which boast English learning in secondary schools above 90 percent, with four more quick to follow with rates around 50 percent. The top countries are deeply involved in international relations and the global market, often sending their students to English dominant countries to study by immersion. The English language is regarded as the language of the business world.
In this way, Americans and citizens of the UK are spoilt. Doris Clark at Forbes Magazine says, “English will maintain and grow its dominance, moving from ‘marker of the elite’ in years past to ‘a basic skill needed for the entire workforce.’” Native-English speakers are catered to in the business world. People excuse our monolingualism by claiming we have no bar to meet, or native language is all we need to build our economy and further younger generations.
This ignores all the other benefits related to learning a second language. First and foremost, bilingualism steps you up personally against your competition in the workplace. According to Minnesota State Careerwise Education, “Research by Rosetta Stone found that people who speak at least one foreign language have an average annual household income that’s $10,000 higher than the household income of those who only speak English. And about 17 percent of those who speak at least one foreign language earn more than $100,000 a year.”
Even while English is considered the business language of the world, the U.S. does plenty of business where a second language would be useful. China, Mexico and Japan are our top trading partners, all of whom do not speak English as the national language. Business leaders in these three countries speak English because they want to extend a mutually beneficial hand — why would we not do the same? Speaking their languages would open up more opportunities.
Beyond this, bilingualism has cognitive benefits as well. “Speaking a foreign language improves the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognise, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems. This skill boosts your ability to negotiate meaning in other problem-solving tasks as well,” reports the Telegraph. Along with this, bilingualism can boost multitasking skills, memory, perception and fight off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
If none of this convinces you to pick up a college class or dedicate a bit of your free time to language helpers such as Rosetta Stone or Duolingo, consider also the cultural significance of speaking a second language. Data released by the Center for Immigration Studies from a 2013 American Community Survey states that, “1 in 5 U.S. residents speaks a foreign language at home” and the number hit a record 61.8 million in 2013, increasing by 2.2 million in the three previous years. Spanish and Chinese were at the top of the foreign language popularity list.
Learning a second language could connect us to our community and help us embrace cultures other than our own. This sort of inclusion is exactly what our country needs right now.