International Language Center BBB Business Review Trusted and Respected since 1983

Report: U.S. Lags in Foreign Language Studies and Bi-Lingual Residents

Report: U.S. Lags in Foreign Language Studies and Bi-Lingual Residents

When you were in middle school or high school, did you have the option to take a foreign language class? I started taking Spanish classes as a seventh grader, and it is one of the best things I ever did.

A staggering report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences shows that foreign language studies in the United States have declined dramatically over the past decade. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. companies looking for bilingual workers has more than doubled in the last five years.

Consider these statistics:

  • Only 15% of the nation’s public elementary schools offer language programs other than English, compared with more than 50% of private elementary schools.
  • Middle schools offering world language programs decreased from 75% in 1997 to 58% in 2008;
  • More states report teacher shortages in languages than in any other subject.

The study of foreign languages must be a higher priority in the United States, says America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education in the 21st Century.

But how?

With funding for public schools being increasingly cut and foreign language programs long classified as electives, making a case for the importance of foreign language education is, in the U.S. at least, an uphill battle.

Every day, the International Language Center receives calls from people hungry to learn or brush up on their foreign language skills.  Some callers are parents wanting to start their children early in a foreign language program. Other callers are students wishing to continue foreign language study after high school or after participating in a study abroad program. Still others are adults who are traveling overseas and want to know the basics: How do you say, “Where can I find a bathroom?” in Italian, or “I’d like a cup of coffee” in French?

Photo courtesy of

For a number of years, ILC has also offered after-school extra-curricular language programs in St. Louis area elementary schools. The classes fill up quickly.

“Learning a new language is extremely important,” says Edda Berti, Director of the Brunetti Language School at ILC. “It helps to improve memory and trains us to multitask. Knowing a second language opens other doors, as well: It can lead to a new job or promotion, and provides an excellent way to meet new people. But I believe the most important thing about learning another language is that it makes us more sensitive to cultural differences and helps us come together as one community.”

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences reports that an estimated 300-400 million Chinese students are now studying English, compared to about 200,000 U.S. students currently studying Chinese. Just as staggering: Approximately 66% of all European adults report having knowledge of more than one language, compared with 20% of U.S. residents.

And yet, the demand for foreign language proficiency continues to escalate. Citing a report by the New American Economy, The Huffington Post reports there are now 630,000 open positions with U.S. companies for bilingual candidates, a huge jump from 240,000 open positions in 2010. “This trend will only continue despite the recent misguided shifts towards nationalism in the US and abroad,” The Huffington Post writes.

So, where will the United States be down the road in the global job market, when more and more companies advertise for bilingual employees or overseas jobs? We can’t rely on U.S. schools to make foreign language education a priority in its classrooms.

We can only rely on ourselves.

One-by-one, let’s acknowledge the importance of foreign language study to our future, and let’s look to the resources available to us as individuals to make that pursuit a reality.


Comments are closed.

Drury Hotels Missouri State Enterprise Monsanto Energizer Panera Parents as Teachers Hussmann Edward Jones Department of Homeland Security Xerox