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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Knowing more foreign languages beneficial to our future

    A 2001 Gallup Poll found that 26 percent of American adults are fluent enough in a second language to hold a conversation. The same poll showed that 77 percent of Americans think it is necessary for new immigrants to learn English. Shouldn’t that standard go both ways, though?

    The university should require students to remain in foreign language courses beyond the current minimum requirement, focusing on immersion opportunities to both promote cultural understanding and prepare students for their future careers.

    With a few exceptions, students at the UA are required to fulfill either second or fourth semester proficiency of a foreign language, depending on their program, but that is simply not enough.

    “Many minors finish without a proficiency in the language,” said Beatriz Jimenez, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department. A Spanish or Portuguese minor requires four more semesters of language study than the basic four-semester requirement for Bachelor of Arts degrees.

    The 2010 census predicts that by 2043, there will be a non-white majority in the United States.

    Tucson is a prime example of the melting pot of people, languages and cultures that exists in America — 53 percent of Tucson residents are a non-white ethnicity and more than 25 percent of Tucson residents speak Spanish, according to the 2010 census.

    Foreign language education is not only important for communication between cultures; it can also help promote tolerance.

    Jimenez went on to stress the importance of outside-the-classroom activities, saying, “Immersion programs like study abroad and continuing on in classes is so important [because] students become more confident in a language that isn’t theirs and often change as people.” She suggested that students seek out opportunities to engage in cultural immersion and use the language as frequently as possible.

    This is already happening in other nations. In many non-native English speaking countries in Europe, like Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, it is compulsory to learn English as a second language in primary or secondary education.

    “University language departments are dying because the U.S. does not mandate foreign language studies,” said Eva Romero, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department professor.

    “It’s really sad to see entire faculties lose relevance because no one has to take their classes. But what I think is sadder is that students don’t want to continue studying a language. They just lose interest.”

    There are major incentives for students to continue their foreign language education, however. The Dana Foundation, a neuroscience collective, says that learning a second language increases cognitive response, such as the ability to switch tasks and focus, and decreases the rate of cognitive decline in old age.

    Additionally, becoming fluent or at least proficient in a second language can help students in finding a career. A 2002 Stanford University publication by Amado Padilla, a professor of education at Stanford and editor of the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, found that bilingual or multilingual employees are often compensated for their ability to speak more than one language.

    “With the world changing, learning a second language can only help you,” said Susan Miller-Pinhey, manager of marketing and special events at Career Services. “In terms of employment, it makes you more valuable and qualified for whatever position you’re after.”

    Language classes are crucial to our future as students and as a country. Students should be highly encouraged to take a foreign language to fluency to improve their job prospects and to enhance the cultural tolerance of our nation.

    Nick Havey is a sophomore studying Spanish and pre-physiology. Follow him on Twitter.com/@nihavey.

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