The necessity of English

Virginia Aabram, Head News Editor

In July I left America for the first time in my life. I had the amazing opportunity to join nearly three million young people from all over the world in Krakow, Poland for World Youth Day, a Catholic celebration of international fellowship led by the Pope. Having no previous experience traveling outside the US, I was worried about the language barrier. However, after a week travelling around Poland and speaking with people from dozens of nations, I became convinced that there is absolutely no need for native English speakers to learn another language.  

Note that I say “need” and not “reason”.  No one can deny that there are benefits to learning a second language. The cognitive benefits are beyond any argument. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, bilingualism provides for higher standardized test scores and academic achievement as well as better proficiency in the speaker’s native tongue.  

But that being said, similar benefits could be obtained through the study of music (which correlates with higher math scores) or any of the other fine arts, all of which team with often unreaped benefits. These too endow the pupil with understanding of different cultures and forms of expression, be that through the universal language of music or the unique lense through which artists see the world.

For people lucky enough to be born in a country where the primary language is English, there is no pressing need to learn to speak another. One of the main things we did during World Youth Day was talk to people from other countries. We would trade tokens such as rubber bracelets and pins while making conversation. Without fail, every person or group that we went up to not only understood us when we addressed them in English, but were also able to hold a conversation. These were individuals from Italy, Portugal, Mexico, France, China, Germany, Egypt, Brazil, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and a host of other countries.  

With a majority of the world represented at this event, I concluded that in the coming years it will become even less necessary for English speakers to learn another language. Most European, African, and Asian nations require a second language and that language is most often English. They begin teaching those language to children as young as six years old, often introducing a second foreign language between the ages of eight and eleven. Within the United States, many educators believe that we should adopt this system, thereby producing bilingual graduates.

For the sake of tolerance and inclusion, most of the people who push for foreign language reform refuse to acknowledge that it simply is not a pressing matter that English speakers learn another language. English is the language of international politics and business as well as the language of American entertainment, which is the most popular in the world. In the United Nations (UN), delegates are able to understand each other perfectly through the help of discrete earpieces that translate. Also, for traveling through Europe or working in an international business, knowing only one language won’t be extremely helpful. Even delegates at the UN who know more than one language still need translators, as they can’t possibly know every tongue present.  

With all the reform that the American education system needs, focusing time and resources on teaching a new language is not practical. By no means should anyone be discouraged from pursuing that path if they show a talent for it; as stated above the cognitive benefits of bilingualism are remarkably beneficial. People who see themselves working in healthcare or as a missionary would do well to study Spanish, but the reforms that some people want, like making it a goal that all students are proficient in Spanish by age 11, are not useful when the children aren’t going to use it again.  

As more countries require English as a second language and as those students grow up, if will get even easier for native English speakers to interact with the world. There are many great things that come with learning a foreign language, but it should remain an elective until English ceases to be the most common second language. And that won’t happen for a very long time.