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Learning Spanish Part Two : Some Solutions

“Foreign language
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 learning is not something that happens overnight; it takes a commitment of time and money. U.S. schools compound the problem by waiting too long to start foreign language instruction. According to ACTFL Professional Programs Director Elvira Swender, U.S. students often start learning foreign languages at puberty, “an age at which their brains are least receptive to language learning.” Swender also notes the relative unimportance that schools assign to languages. “It doesn’t occur to anyone that we should wait to teach students math,” she points out, “so why do we wait with foreign languages?”

 “  According to ACTFL Professional Programs Director Elvira Swender, U.  
Why has America always had this love-hate relationship with learning a second language? What is it that Americans seem to fear in the acquisition of a second language—a fear so great that they will resort to English Only legislative efforts to assure that their children are not brutalized by the introduction of a foreign language in their schools.

“Why pass laws to repress “bilingualism,” a resource that competitors are trying to conserve and exploit?” (“…brutalize our schools with their language…”—Frosty Wooldridge, an anti-Mexican xenophobe and Minuteman Project supporter)

There is a real and unacknowledged fear of foreigners in the American culture. I see this all the time in the people I talk to. I am a syndicated columnist and book author who is constantly deluged with readers’ comments--some not so nice. I get a sense from the hundreds of column readers’ responses I receive that not only is Xenoglossophobia (The Fear of Foreign Languages) a real problem but Xenophobia in general is alive and well in America.

At the writing of this story, the Minuteman Project movement is growing by leaps and bounds. This will, in my view, cause an even large isolationism from Mexico. Maybe America will even go back to the days when learning a foreign language will be outlawed or at least dropped from every school’s curriculum all together. Anything is possible. Stranger things have happened.

In Europe, there is a bilingual rate of about 52% compared to America’s 9% rate. The reason for this is, in Europe, one has to learn
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 foreign languages just to survive. Where I live, in Guanajuato, Mexico, I constantly meet Europeans who are fluent, to some degree, in multiple languages. They are multilingual because they live in such close proximity to other countries that have a language different than their own.

If Nebraska had one language and Kansas another, there would be many Nebraskans and Kansans who would speak one another’s languages. Their close proximity would necessitate the learning of one another’s languages.

Americans simply have never had to learn another language, unlike their European counterparts. Language inability deprives one of the opportunities to learn of another culture. That is the breeding ground for ignorance and fear—Xenoglossophia. Nor do American school systems start teaching other languages to children in the very earliest years of their formal education
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, as do their European cousins. One, however, should not underestimate the issue of need. Americans have simply never had to learn another language to conduct their affairs in life, as have other citizens of the world.

NEXT: Why Acquire a Second Language?

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