By Timi Obatusin

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The United States of America has a population of 325.4 million people, yet only 18% of American adults today are able to speak a language other than English.   

America is inhabited by much of the world's Spanish-speaking population – more than Spain itself. This is due to the fact that the USA is surrounded by many Caribbean countries with high proportions of the Hispanic community and bordered by Mexico; the country with the highest number of Spanish speakers in the world.

So surely, Americans have a clear reason to learn another language, don't they?

Being able to speak a foreign language has its own benefits:

1.      You can break the language barrier between you and other cultures.

2.      You reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

3.      You improve your memory.

4.      You receive a higher salary at work for being bilingual…and everyone loves money.

Some Americans believe that being monolingual promotes patriotism as it is the leading language of the States. English is spoken worldwide and therefore, Americans believe they don’t need other languages to survive. Yet the USA needs their people to be proficient in other languages to provide diplomats, politicians, foreign policy experts, entrepreneurs, scientists and business leaders. This disregard for prioritising foreign languages is encouraged by the use of English as a lingua franca (a common language between speakers whose native languages are different) of trade and international politics. Other languages just begin to seem unimportant.

Due to this mind-set, involvement in foreign language classes is at a very low level, with only 7% of college students enrolled in one. Bilingualism is a must-have skill as over 7,000 languages are spoken all over the world, and being able to speak only one puts American people at a severe disadvantage. People from non-English speaking countries almost always have an obligation to learn English as a second language, otherwise they are unlikely to advance in their jobs. This means that they are already bilingual and a more valuable asset to an international company.

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Rachel Hanson – a language-policy analyst emphasises that, “languages are not a side dish that’s extra, but it’s a side dish that complements other skills.” Language skills fortify other skills that one has and language education should be integrated into subjects ranging from engineering to political science. Knowing a foreign language is an undoubtedly practical skill as 1 in 5 jobs are tied to international trade, and the US government desperately needs to find a way to raise interest in foreign language learning.

But, in the end, many Americans just don’t learn languages because they can’t be bothered. Maybe I should have just led with that…