Essay on Addressing Foreign Language Deficit in the U.S

Published: 2021-08-02
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University of California, Santa Barbara
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The United States foreign language deficit has been on the ream light as one of the greatest language-related challenges facing the USA currently. The ratio of bilingual to monolingual individuals in the USA is one to three. This translates to just 18 percent of Americans who can communicate in a foreign language, as compared to European counties, where 53 out of a hundred can communicate in another language other than English (Stein-Smith, 2016, p. 72). Having a majority of the USA population learning a foreign language is of the essence since with the increasing rate at which the world is becoming a global village, the lack of proficiency among American citizens will cause them to be on the losing end. Probably people fail to understand that steady progress and growth can be achieved through advanced language study. Bamford & Mizokawa (2010, p. 423) explain that learning a foreign language gives an individual a competitive edge in the ever-changing community particularly in the job market. In that light, this text focuses on what has been done to alleviate the USA foreign language deficit. It also sheds light on previous approaches in resolving the issue and how effective these strategies have been.

Challenges in Addressing the Foreign Language Deficit

Despite millions of students being enrolled in secondary schools and colleges each year, a higher proportion does not get registered in foreign language classes. However, this is not because they lack interest, but because most of them do not get the opportunity. There is not enough number of institutions offering foreign language instruction in the country. Calderon (2009) notes that enrolment into foreign language programs has decreased, with schools at early level cutting their offerings or eliminating foreign language programs from their schools. Considering how foreign language instructions have been offered over the past years in the country, private and public elementary schools offering foreign language training programs have declined by six percent. There was also a significant decrease in rural districts where these institutions declined by nine percent. Additionally, the number of middle schools providing foreign language training declined by 17 percent. Between 2009 and 2013, only 50.7 percent of institutions of higher learning required the studying of a foreign language for a baccalaureate, which was a significant decrease from 67.5 percent in 1995 (Stein-Smith, 2016, p. 74). Therefore, the shortage of foreign language instruction programs dramatically stands as a challenge to alleviating the foreign language deficit problem.

Another challenge is that most Americans have reverted to the belief that English is a language of exceptionalism, which makes them take so much pride in their language that they neglect other languages. Caldas & Boudreaux (2011, p. 13) explain that the sense that English is an international lingua franca has been a stumbling block to tackling the foreign language deficit in the USA. English is spoken by almost 75 percent of the global population, which may make people rule out the need for learning a foreign language. Nevertheless, a look at the global market inevitably necessitates a foreign language. Perhaps if USA competitors in the worldwide market were monolingual, that would not have been a call for concern. However, graduates complete schools to find a crowded field of professional counterparts from Mexico, China and Europe who have a high degree of proficiency in the English language on top of their native languages. The reality of the current job market is that Americans will walk into an interview and they will be contrasted with a multilingual candidate and stand a losing chance.

There is also a problem of teacher shortage. Schools may embrace the benefits of learning a foreign language and start tutoring programs but still find it challenging to acquire qualified, engaging and experienced teachers. Calderon (2009) describes this as a chicken or egg challenge. He explains that language cannot be expanded if a country does not have the pool of teachers to impart the skills and that if students, on the other hand, are not becoming proficient at language, they cannot become teachers in future (Calderon, 2009). Currently, schools are having a hard time finding instructors in languages that were traditionally taught. On top of that, the qualification needed for one to pursue a career as a language teacher is below what is required to join the military. This goes a long way in creating a negative attitude among learners, and a low level of esteem in the profession. This, in turn, contributes to the shortage of professionals to offer guidance in foreign languages.

Approaches to The Problem

Some steps could be taken in addressing the problem. First, professional associations should advocate for the training of foreign languages. It is also necessary to sensitize the public to the need for learning foreign languages as well as the benefit that this could accrue in the future. To develop the motivation, Stein-Smith (2016, p. 73) advises that excellent examples should be offered to the public such as the British Academy Languages Program and the EUs initiatives to promote multilingualism. To make English speakers invest their effort and time in developing foreign language skills, the desirability could come in handy. Things that appeal to a wide range of learners, such as movies, music, fashion, and celebrities need to be utilized to develop this motivation (Stein-Smith, 2016, p. 74). Opportunities for foreign languages should be increased to show the importance of foreign language. Foreign language advocates and educators should be visible in their communities offering programs and highlighting other cultures and their languages.

Undeniably, the foreign language gap among our population is to some extent rooted in the education system. For this reason, the USA could borrow a lead from the European education system where the national government sees to it that students become proficient in at least one foreign language (Devlin, 2015). In this light, foreign language programs could be introduced at the elementary level to ensure that students understand at least one foreign language before they reach teenage. Personally, I think this would go a long way in solving the problem since educational institutions could integrate language into their other programs of learning. As explained by Pufahl et al. (2013), dual language instruction (whereby a variety of subjects is taught using two languages) would eliminate the idea that one language is superior to another, and eliminate the need to employ another language teacher. For instance, the language could be integrated into political science and engineering subjects. In trying to incorporate the European system into our own, we should, however, keep in mind that the differences between the USA and Europe could be a hindering factor.

As an approach to this issue, people should also consider the learning of a foreign language as a personal initiative. Citizens can advocate for learning of a foreign language for their parent, themselves and their children within their communities as well as schools. We could join movements to advocate for foreign languages as a need-to-have tool in the 21st-century job market. Parents could expose their children to people of varied cultural and language backgrounds since the lack of day to day exposure to other languages aside English is a major challenge facing foreign languages in the US (Pufahl et al., 2013). If certain individuals speak a foreign language, they should try using it at home with their family members and friends. Policymakers, on the other hand, should secure adequate financial resources to be geared towards improving foreign language programs in the curriculum. If everyone took it as their initiative, then we would stand a better chance in alleviating this problem.


Notably, people who understand more than one language stand a better chance for a job promotion as compared to those who are monolinguist. Moreover, learning a foreign language is imperative in promoting peaceful coexistence around the globe since people can communicate in the same language despite their cultural, geographical and economic differences. Indeed, Americans make a large proportion of the worlds population with a foreign language deficit, which is likely to affect the economic security of the country and the ability to navigate the international job market. The foreign language gap proves that the security of the USA wants since to improve relations with others and prosper economically; people need to learn how to speak in other languages. The lack of foreign language skills locks us out of enjoying the benefits of a multicultural word as we can hardly interact with it. Our nation has faced problems concerning language over the past several years but understanding the challenges faced in addressing this issue could be the first step in finding a go ahead.


Bamford, K. W., & Mizokawa, D. T. (2010). Additivebilingual (immersion) education: Cognitive and language development. Language Learning, 41(3), 413-429.

Caldas, S. J., & Boudreaux, N. (2011). Poverty, Race, and Foreign Language Immersion: Predictors of Math and English Language Arts Performance. Learning Languages, 5(1), 4-15.Calderon, M. E. (2009). Promoting language proficiency and academic achievement through cooperation. ERIC Clearinghouse.

Devlin, K. (2015). Learning a foreign language, a must in Europe, not so in America. Pew Research Center.Pufahl, I., Rhodes, N. C., & Christian, D. (2013). What We Can Learn from Foreign Language Teaching in Other Countries. ERIC Digest.

Stein-Smith, K. (2016). Addressing the US Foreign Language DeficitThe Campaign for Foreign Languages. In The US Foreign Language Deficit (pp. 69-76). Springer International Publishing.

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