Why learning foreign languages is a ‘crucial’ skill

From staff reports
March 10th, 2014

Learning other languages brings cultural understanding that is critical to working—and living—in a global society, experts say


“In the global world we live in, students need opportunities to become knowledgeable in world cultures and languages,” said Keith Rice, academic dean for UMS-Wright Preparatory School.

Educational technology consultant Alan November is fond of telling a story about a conversation he once had with a senior executive at a global investment bank.

During the course of their discussion, November asked the executive: What’s the most important skill for today’s students to learn, so they are prepared to succeed in the new global economy?

“Empathy,” the executive replied—the ability to understand and respect different cultural points of view.

Most of today’s companies do business with customers all over the world, and several also have branches in multiple countries. Chances are good that when students enter the workforce, they’ll be working with—or at least doing business with—someone from another nation, with its own culture and its own unique perspective, at some point in their career.

See also:

World Language Education in a Blended Learning Environment

It’s not hard to find employees who are smart, the executive told November. What are hard to find are employees who can empathize with, and be sensitive to the needs of, people from other countries.

Learning other languages is an important way to develop this cultural empathy. That’s why a growing number of K-12 leaders believe that exposure to world languages and cultures—even at a very early age—is critical for students’ success in the 21st century.

But learning other languages isn’t just an important workforce skill. It’s also integral to becoming a more responsible global citizen.

(Next page: What the Education Department says about global competencies—and how teaching foreign languages can help)

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3 Responses to “Why learning foreign languages is a ‘crucial’ skill”

March 11, 2014

Are the results from the standardized tests (benchmarks, EOG’s, Universal Screeners) the same as the courses taught by a native Spanish/Mandarin teacher?

April 21, 2014

This article is spot on! Learning a 2nd language is critical — for the many reasons outlined in this article. However, as Delaware Governor Jack Markell obviously knows, there is a significant difference between ‘learning’ a language and being ‘exposed’ to a language.

In the U.S., our schools have gotten very good at exposure but remain sorely behind on providing actual language proficiency. Only immersion programs deliver true proficiency and they are not widespread due to cost and lack of access to bilingual teachers. So hats off to those states and districts who have figured out that while immersion programs cost more, they provide a critical life skill for our students.

But what about all those students without access to immersion programs? Where will they gain “the substantive knowledge and understanding to address issues, phenomena, and catastrophes that cut across borders” and the ability “to communicate and work collaboratively with international peers to address these global challenges.” Learning the colors and numbers for 30 minutes two times a week will not deliver these skills. For that there needs to be a more formal effort to globalize the classroom. Teachers need to be able to weave the world into their core curriculum so even those students who don’t have access to an immersion program, will still develop as global citizens. THEN you’ve created a life long interest in both the world, and quite likely, language learning.

Caroline Spencer
VIF International Education