The educational press treats language learning in America as another tale of national decline. The Tufts Daily reports the usual problem and the usual solution.
“It goes without saying, therefore, that American foreign language education needs improvement. A major complication prohibiting effective education has been teacher shortages. When there are not enough people qualified to teach second languages, the U.S. lacks the bilingual population necessary to fill teaching positions for future generations.”
The Tufts Daily1
By Matthew Rampe
Published October 27, 2023
It goes without saying, Mr. Rampe, that thousands of bilingual immigrants could be let into government teaching colleges with just the tiniest shift in admissions policy. Maybe their children could be let directly into public schools and part of their day would be teaching the local children another language. The solution is not difficult, but there is no will in public education to change. Letting the non-English speakers teach languages in a school would make more sense than increasing the number of government teachers with a narrow mandate to be bi-lingual certified. Making sense is not the goal. Could the new language teaching model of English as a Second Language curriculum be transformed into a policy of encouraging the monolingual groups teach one another to become bilingual? Is there even a public policy mechanism able to facilitate that sort of learning? Swapping out English as a Second Language is unlikely in government schools. The key phrase preventing educators from taking this approach is “people who are qualified.” That is a narrow filter. Progressive American educators were never in favor of learning languages. Too many people have too much to lose. The qualification filter provides their current excuse.
People must take the goal of language training on themselves. Home schools, unschoolers, and self-educators already have language learning on their path to free thinking. Classical Homeschooling intends to raise a new generation of students with the educational background of the Founders. This movement is not the rebirth of the aristocratic Classical education that John Dewey fought so hard and long to obliterate. This Classical curriculum targets a more modest middle class homeschool population that have rejected public education. Contemporary Classical Curriculum looks back to Latin grammar schools that taught students Latin and Greek. Nothing is wrong in this approach. This curriculum can provide language focus and a translated version of Classical thought if fluency in Greek and Latin is too hard. No homeschool can provide the Classical education of John Adams or even of John Stewart Mills. The infrastructure in Greek tutors and the reality that the law is no longer written in Latin make the Classical fluency of Jefferson unlikely for any but a few gifted students. Nevertheless, these schools can rectify John Dewey’s grand mistake in his trying to replace traditional Classical Education with the Prussian factory education for the masses.
Don’t Be a Monoglot!
The Prussian model focused on the language of the nation. It was focused on disciplined organization, loyalty to the King, or in America the factory owner, and it stressed loyalty to the nation. The industrial leaders liked the uniformity and discipline for the training of industrial workers. Educators, like Dewey, liked the focus shifting away from traditional and conservative ideas so that progressive ideas could be inserted. The emphasis on languages faded because one language makes the student easier to mold and control.
You are a serf today if you are an English-only speaker in the United States. Sadly, most publicly educated people speak only English. Progressive Education successfully pushed back against Classical Education for more than a century so that now, only about 6% of adults are fluent in Latin. Far fewer have Greek. Even at the start of WWII, most university educated people could understand the ideas of the Greeks in Greek. Now only a smattering of American scholars can understand Plato in the original Greek.
This does not stop people from learning languages. It just keeps that learning out of public schools. As an example, one of the finest young linguistic scholars, Arum Natzorkhang, is mostly self-taught and free from most university leveling, choosing to make his impact through Tik-Tok. There is no official public school path to get to Mr. Natzorkhang’s expertise. The public school path remains a crusade to force English into the mouths of the millions of immigrant children disguised as English as a Second Language. The excuse for a century has been “not enough bi-lingual teachers qualified to teach a second language.” It is a goal, not a limitation. Never mind that being able to speak all the languages around you would smooth the social interactions, the urge toward an unitary language in the United States continues. The official curriculum still prefers a uniformity of workers and citizens. Serfs.
Self-educators should look beyond the time when only the ruling class in the U. S. could speak Classical languages, French, German, and English fluently. The self-educated should look around at the realities of language use today. Greek was the primary language of the Byzantine Empire and then still in the Ottoman Empire. The language that Alexander the Great spread is not dominant now. The Orthodox churches in the middle east have moved the liturgy from the traditional Greek and Coptic, where it began thousands of years ago, into Arabic. Arabic is the majority language spoken by the populations in those countries today. Similarly, the Classical studies of the Founding Fathers are not as relevant today as during the Enlightenment. Language training should shift with the demographic changes in the local society.
The American adults who educate themselves in 2023, and who school their children, should consider studying another language beyond the native tongue as their primary goal. This should be a language spoken by people around them, just as Greek and Latin were spoken around John Adams. The reality in 2023 in the United States is that Spanish speakers benefit from English fluency and English speakers benefit from Spanish fluency. Spanish and English fluency should be the goal for everyone in North America. Whether one should be learning Spanish or English is determined by that person’s native tongue. Knowing a language takes years, so get on to it. It is not hard. It is not expensive. In the Internet Age free language learning is everywhere. There is Babbel and Duolingo on your phone that offer free options and are inexpensive even for the paid options. On your phone, in your free time. You can find English and Spanish speakers everywhere in the United States to practice with. Half of the programming on Netflix and Hulu is in each of these languages. Immersion is possible. Don’t be a Monoglot. If you prefer a more formal curriculum for the home school, many good programs can be found, for example:
OpenCulture.com. Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More 2
Be A Polyglot!
Now for something more radical. After two languages, a non-European language is critical for an educated person. It makes the brain more vibrant as the student deals with an alien alphabet, grammar, and syntax. It has been encouraged from time immemorial. This was the reason people from Roman times learned Greek. It had a great literature and expanded the Roman experience. This is still a good option, but since The United States is perpetually in a cold war with Russia and China, two countries each with a different non-European alphabet, these are two are great options for learning a non-European language. Then there is Arabic. Or Hindi. Or Mandarin. Billions of people speak Mandarin and Hindi. Billions. You have no idea what those billions are saying today, do you? And you could.
The Mother Tongue Rule: Why learn anything but your mother tongue?
Most don’t. Not even in North America.
- Only one-eighth of the population in Mexico can speak English.
- Most Canadians barely manage any French even though it is legally mandated.
- 78% of the U.S. population speaks only English.
This is not true everywhere. China encourages citizens to learn English. An estimated one third of the population in China studied English in 2019. This began during the Cultural Revolution in 1976 and continues today. China has more than double the English language penetration of people in India which is ironically called “the largest English-speaking democracy.”
The Chinese want to understand English speakers. Americans are not directed to understand any other people. Three out of four Americans are fluent in only one language. Even though most Americans think that fluency in Mandarin would be good for international trade, only 4% of American foreign language students were fluent Mandarin speakers. 4% of Americans learning Mandarin versus the 33% of Chinese learning English makes one wonder who are all those Chinese going to practice English on? Access to Mandarin is easy. Tik-Tok has dozens of language teaching presenters. It is as close as your smart phone.
Adults in charge of children in homeschools should make sure that both the parents and the children learn some Mandarin. Do you hear the rustling of fingers on the screen as homeschool families scroll away? Sweep-right from that thought? It breaks the usual Classical education model and homeschool curriculum. Rarely has Mandarin as the language choice over Greek or Latin. All the Cicero and Plato written will not reset the American Republic. Neither will learning Mandarin, but Mandarin will allow employment in any large company on Earth that does business in China. It is less difficult than it seems and the parent-teacher can learn with the student. Tik-Tok has many sites that teach every level of Mandarin. Of course Tik-Tok is enemy spy technology in 2024, but people can find language training there for free. Mandarin is functional and billions of people speak it, so the languages of choice are settled for American homeschool families: English and Spanish and Mandarin.
I don’t mean to step on anyone’s puppy, but …. Everyone! As they say in Texan, all y’all! Learn languages, please! Your homework this week is to drag yourself off to Open Culture on the link above. Or go to Duolingo to pick out your next language. Or Babbel. Or Tik-Tok. Or even You Tube. Begin to teach yourself. Teach your children. It is mostly free. By the way. We are not compensated at brasswordpublishing.com for your visit to these vendors. This is a public service announcement. You just need to get started. You will be one day closer to your first free thought. If you have some other excuse not to start today, I don’t care = 我不管.
1“The Tufts Daily is the entirely student-run newspaper of record at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “
- 2This BLOG receives no compensation for this or any advice. The point is free education. Right?