More language classes necessary for students to keep up

Catherine Conrow

In our 21st-century world, it is becoming increasingly important for students to study a wide variety of languages and cultures to keep up with the changing economic and social trends. In the past, Redwood offered Mandarin classes, but less than 1 percent of TUHSD students signed up for the classes. This forced the district to cut Mandarin in 2013, according to Michael McDowell, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. The district could once again offer Mandarin and other language classes if it encouraged Redwood students to realize the importance of learning languages others than just Spanish and French. 

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Although not as many people in Marin speak Arabic, Mandarin, or Russian as much as Spanish, these languages have an incredibly important role in the global marketplace. With a population of 1.3 billion people and the world’s biggest industrial economy, the importance of learning Mandarin in America is hard to deny. But because of state and federal budget cuts, foreign-language classes are falling by the wayside in schools across America, according to Nancy Rhodes of the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit that promotes language learning and cultural understanding.

The United States lags behind nearly every other industrialized or rapidly-developing nation in language instruction, according to Rhodes. In Europe, 53 percent of students have mastered a second language, while only 10 percent of native-born Americans can speak a language other than English, according to an analysis of the 2010 Census.

Bilingualism helps employees interested in careers outside of international affairs, international economics, or international business. Doctors, for example, can benefit from having language skills because it allows them to communicate with patients who do not speak English.

In an increasingly competitive job market, companies, nonprofits, and the government are looking to hire employees with language skills and cultural knowledge, allowing those who have studied language to use their skills as a marketable tool. And even more relevant to high school students, colleges have a stockpile of applicants who have taken Spanish but very few who have studied Mandarin or another language that is less commonly taught in schools, allowing students who have studied these languages to stand out.

The demand for employees who speak foreign languages is rapidly growing but companies are often scrambling to find bilingual applicants. According to Kirsten Brecht-Baker, the founder of Global Professional Search, American companies are having to import employees from around the world because there is a shortage of Americans with foreign language skills. She attributed this lack of language proficiency to insufficient time and money being invested into foreign language education.

People who have mastered a second language earn more money and have access to better jobs. According to one calculation on Unicode, employees who speak Spanish earn an additional $51,000 throughout their careers while those who speak German earn an additional $128,000.

In 2012, the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee declared a “national security crisis” because of the shortage of Americans fluent in less commonly taught languages important for U.S. strategic and economic interests, including Mandarin and Farsi.

More than 26 percent of California’s population speak Spanish at home, according to a report published by Stanford University. Learning Spanish will undoubtedly help Redwood students better communicate with the large number of native Spanish speakers in our community. However from a purely economic point of view, it is better to learn a language in high demand, but short supply.

This has nothing to do with the qualities of Spanish, just the simple economic concept of supply and demand. According to an article in The Economist, the benefits of learning a language not commonly taught in schools is why parents, especially in Marin, are pushing their children to study Mandarin, which is offered at College of Marin.

Neglecting to study other languages means that we are losing the opportunity to become important players in potential markets and giving our peers who speak other languages an advantage when applying for jobs. While English is a major language, the United States.’ economy only accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), a number that is predicted to decrease in the future, according to the World Bank.

Of course, Redwood should not be focused on churning out little GDP-producing machines. But nonetheless, it is the responsibility of both the district, administration and students to consider the benefits of offering and enrolling in non-traditional languages. While studying French to one day be able to stroll along the banks of the Seine may sound romantic, if you are interested in maximizing your potential salary, studying French may not help you accomplish this goal.