The Washington Post reports that a survey by Nancy C. Rhodes and Ingrid Pufahl of the Center for Applied Linguistics, entitled “Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools,” has a clear message, part good, part bad. The good news: Spanish language instruction is growing, something to cheer because we share this hemisphere mostly with people who speak that language. Two of my children are fluent in Spanish and use it in their jobs, which makes me proud and hopeful for the future. The bad news: all the other languages important to the future of the planet are either losing popularity in our schools, or making only tiny gains from very low levels. The only language in which I have any facility is Mandarin Chinese, certainly a biggie in international affairs but a pygmy in American education. It is taught in only 3 percent of elementary schools and 4 percent of high schools with foreign language programs. The report does not cover college language programs, where most of us who have tried to learn less popular languages took courses. But it would be nice if we could find a way to build more fluent speakers in the K-12 grades.
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