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The student voice of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio

The Leaf

The student voice of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio

The Leaf

The student voice of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio

The Leaf

Facing our national fluency failure

A large majority of SHS students take Spanish. While there is nothing wrong with Spanish, if few students pursue other languages, international opportunities for cooperation will be limited. As the United States relinquishes its claim to number one world power, it is time to reevaluate how foreign languages are taught. Photo Courtesy of Lila Englander.

I’m not sure how often the United States Googles itself, but I will be the first to say I was pretty disturbed with what came up. I can think of quite a few AP U.S. History students who would be too upon hearing their precious “‘Murica” is currently ranked 21st on the Democracy Index.

But what caught my eye more than the ironically low rank on the Democracy Index were our unimpressive test scores and poorly rated education system.

When our generation joins the workforce, it is unlikely the United States will be the unquestioned superpower it once was. Instead, we will begrudgingly accept our role as one of many developed countries in a globally integrated world.

If we hope to remain a relevant player in this type of world we will need to shift our national educational focus. We are specifically infamous for our inability to teach foreign languages.

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“If someone who speaks three languages is trilingual, and a person who speaks four languages is quadrilingual, what is a person called who speaks no foreign language at all? Answer: An American,” wrote Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist.

If the U.S. hopes to succeed in a competitive global economy, it must be able to understand and communicate with other markets. One area of SHS education that needs improvement is teaching foreign languages.

Taking a language is mandatory, but really learning one is rare.   Forcing students to sit in a classroom memorizing flashcards for the sole purpose of fulfilling credit requirements causes an enormous waste of resources, and makes it impossible for those who truly wish to learn a language to succeed.

“I have a one-question language test that people who have lived abroad do better on than those who studied in a classroom. Try my test yourself: In a foreign language you’ve studied, how do you say ‘doorknob’?” said Friedman.

After spending four months in Israel I easily passed Friedman’s test in Hebrew. After four years studying Mandarin Chinese at school, however, I could not.

The best way to learn a language is to be immersed. The solution could be a combination of teachers who allow no English to be spoken in their classes and greater investment in study abroad programs on an individual and national scale.

Furthermore, mastery of the right foreign language at the right time is key.  While Spanish is a useful language, having the bulk of American students enrolled in the same language means that many doorways of opportunity are going to be crammed with people, rendering what was once an advantage much less useful.

If the U.S. wants to get back on top, it must begin by fixing a broken down education system. Now is the time to rethink national approach to teaching foreign language, before the U.S. loses the respect and influence it worked so hard to earn.

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About the Contributor
Lila Englander
Lila Englander, Assignment Editor
I am currently a senior. This year I serve as an assignment editor. I love writing about people or groups with fascinating stories who often fly under the radar. Beyond learning to use the Adobe design programs and developing my writing skills, journalism has allowed me to pursue my love of learning and gain a deeper understanding of the profound value of collaboration. I enjoy participating in Academic Quiz Team, Chinese Club and TEAMS team. I love backpacking, kayaking, climbing, reading and napping. I am learning Chinese at school at the AP level and can read, write and speak Hebrew because I went to Jewish day school until eighth grade. I also sharpened my Hebrew skills during junior year while studying abroad for a semester in the desert of Israel through Alexander Muss High School in Israel. The past three summers, I have been lucky enough to intern at a small nonprofit called Design Impact. My favorite book is "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace. My favorite T.V. shows are "The Wire" and "True Detective." My three favorite news sources are "The New York Times," "The Atlantic," and "The Onion." I also listen to "This American Life" on NPR every week. Although I am interested in pursuing a career in engineering, I am confident that journalism will benefit me wherever I end up. I am looking forward to another great year on staff!
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Facing our national fluency failure