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Editorial: Time for imaginative thinking on languages

Original post made on Oct 3, 2007

A new citizens' task force is taking shape next week, as Palo Alto school officials round out the parent membership and prepare to set the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) group on its daunting task. The application deadline for parents is Monday.

Read the full editorial here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 3, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (41)

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Posted by Carolyn Tucher
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Oct 3, 2007 at 10:40 am

Great editorial, Weekly staff! All PAUSD students should have the opportunity to learn a second language. The ability to speak in Spanish or Chinese or French is an essential skill in a global economy. Not only will students benefit economically; they will also have the pleasure of learning about another culture through its literature, its newspapers and magazines, and its own history books. Travel opportunities will be more fun when students can converse in the language of the locals.

Starting in elementary school is ideal. I'd like to think the task force will also consider articulation with the language programs in the secondary schools. Students from the Spanish Immersion program currently find a big disconnect when they reach middle school and high school. PAUSD needs a K-12 foreign language curriculum.

There are lots of reasons to make Spanish a priority in district efforts. Other families like ours may have a preference for instruction in a different language, but California is a state with rich rewards for students with Spanish language skills.

When my husband and I visited China last spring, we discovered that even in remote village schools all 3rd graders learn English. It's a national policy. It's long past time for the U.S. to catch up with other countries.

Kudos to the Weekly for thinking out of the box. I hope the task force, the school board and the community will do the same.

Carolyn Tucher


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Posted by aw, c'mon, don't ruin all the good reasons.
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 10:48 am

Carolyn:

I completely agree with everything you said until you say "it is time for" us to "catch up to other countries'.

This completely turns me and many of us off. It is a sentiment which fails to understand what is driving "other countries" to learn English. It is not simply because they are more "advanced" in their thinking than we are..it is economic necessity. That is the only driving force in other countries learning English. For us to "catch up" would mean that all of our children would have to learn all of the languages of all of the other countries which are insisting on their kids learning English.

The reality is English is the international language, that is why other countries are teaching English. This isn't ethno-arrogance, it is simply reality.

This is the only invalid reason for teaching another language, so please don't dilute the many, many valid ones with this one. The valid ones are all the others you mentioned, plus many more.

By the way, the "other countries" far surpass us in Math and Science. When are we going to push to "catch up" in these areas so our companies don't have to hire non-Americans? We hire foreigners because of their math and science, not because they speak a "foreign" language.


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Posted by Try Berlitz First
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 11:35 am

> It's long past time for the U.S. to catch up with other countries

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
What other countries should we catch up with?

The following is a rank-order list of the world's country's based on per-capita GDP:

Web Link

While technically number nine on this list (but really number one based on population) with a per-capita GDP of $43,000, China (for instance) is number 109 at $7,800 per year. How does learning Mandarin, in this case, help us "catch up" with China? Then there are the other 228 countries on this list. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] There are over 2,500 languages and dialects found in the world. Do the people promoting foreign languages in the elementary schools really believe that the "other countries" are teaching all of these languages/dialects? Of course not! They teach only a couple at best. Little Holland does require a number of languages for their kids in the public schools--and for good reason. However, Holland has not been able to defend itself from its more powerful neighbors. Even though the Dutch spoke many languages, it took the "linguistically challenged" American Army to remove the Germans from their lands within recent history.

English is commonly known as "the language of prosperity". As long as the US (and England) exist, people will be more interested in learning English than "all the other languages" because behind English is the freedom and opportunity of an English speaking country.


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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Try Berlitz First,
er, this isn't a wealth issue, it's an education issue. "aw c'mon" is talking about how the U.S. ranks in math and science education, not GDP. Here's a set of pretty little charts showing how the US ranks worldwide. Web Link .

"The schools systematically let kids down. By grade 4, American students only score in the middle of 26 countries reported. By grade 8 they are in the bottom third, and at the finish line, where it really counts, we're near dead last. Its even worse when you notice that some of the superior countries in grade 8 (especially the Asians) were not included in published 12th grade results."


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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:47 pm

oops, my mistake, Berlitz. You were referencing an earlier comment about English, not aw c'mon's comment about math & science. Apologies for skimming and misreading.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2007 at 12:53 pm

Yet Another,

Be careful when doing these kind of comparisons. Remember, half of China consists of peasants--eighth grade may be as far as some of them ever get. Education is excellent for the top 10 percent who go to college, or is it 6 percent, but the vast majority of kids in China and India don't get anywhere near that far.

Nearly half of China can't communicate in the country's official language. We have a lot of immigrants here, but their kids do learn English.

Our educational system isn't as hierarchical, so it's hard to make direct comparisons. Which isn't to say that we don't have a problem with basic education, we do. But I think you have to be careful about the comparisons. Maybe some of the European models might work a little better--or Canada. Just guessing here.


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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 3, 2007 at 1:52 pm

OhlonePar,
This is getting off on a tangent here. Let me answer your concerns and then we can return to discussing language and English.
The comparisons I pointed to are part of TIMSS – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. It's conducted every 4 years and is the definitive study for comparing those subjects on an international level. Your point is well taken – it doesn't test ALL the population. But it is a useful comparison of the educated population, and therefore a good comparison of education systems. BTW, neither India nor China participates in the study.

About the quote, let me clarify. I pasted it for those who don't like following weblinks. There was no residual meaning in the last sentence of that paragraph – I could have just as easily left out the reference to Asian countries.

As far as looking to other countries for better educational models, I believe this depends on the subject matter. Just because "Singapore Math" looks promising, it doesn't necessarily follow that "Singapore Science" or "Singapore English" is any good.

I hope the task force attracts a few members who grew up outside the US and have varied experiences with learning a second language in elementary school. Foreign language education doesn't seem to be one of our fortes.


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Posted by not a fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 2:44 pm

I hope the task force begins at the beginning: Is FLES a priority for this district, that supercedes other priorities. And how do we as a district determine this to be a fact, in a way that is truthfully representative of the community?

To spend alot of immense time studying FLES alternatives seems to be taking the cart before the horse.

Resources are finite.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Yet Another,

Thanks for the clarification and the info. I really don't think American education is what it could be. I'm just wary of cross-cultural generalizations because of the variables--like who has access and who's tested. So thank you for the sourcing.

Not a fan,

I'm not sure why the FLES thing is so all-or-nothing. That was always my question about MI as well. I'd like to see more than one option for FLES development, depending on different budgets and space. If there was ever a time for flexible and out-of-the-box thinking, this is it. I have to say, I've always been taken by the idea of summer immersion options, supported by some school-year support. It's an efficient way to learn a language; it wouldn't take space during the school year and could be self-supporting. Escondido already offers an SI summer camp, so why not create something accessible to kids who aren't in the immersion programs?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Actually I think (and hope) that the task force will just look at options, costs, and implications - not at whether FLES is a priority. The strategic planning process is for that. The TF work should be an input into the planning process.


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Posted by aw, C'mon
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 8:02 pm

To YAP : Thanks for the TIMMS and for the clarification that China and India don't participate in it.

Fascinating, and scary.

I was hoping I was wrong.


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Posted by aw, C'mon
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 8:04 pm

I agree with Terry.It shouldn't be the job of the FLES committee to determine priorities for the District. Just should come up with different options, and costs for implementation, for broadening our foreign language offerings.

I hope it can address the lack of ANY foreign language in 6th grade, but the name of it makes me think it is supposed to stop thinking above the 5th grade


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2007 at 8:09 pm

I really like Claude Ezran's idea which he posted elsewhere on the Forum about starting a new program for 6th grade and then working subsequently down the grades rather than starting at the bottom and working up.

There are definite advantages to this approach, the main being that it will give the benefit to the most students and start this benefit earlier. Also, it will make working out how to treat these students when they reach 7th grade much easier when it comes to seeing how they fit into the language program already installed.

We do have to look at FLES as part of the whole k - 12 experience and not as a separate program outside the definitive language progression of l (a and b) 2, 3, 4 and AP.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2007 at 9:50 pm

Personally I hope any FLES group fleshes out the significant challenges and costs with "full out FLES." For instance, what do we cut from the curriculum to make time for FLES? What could we really hope to achieve with it? Adding time to the school day?? I also hope we hear from elementary teachers, who would point out that their days are already over-packed and there is not enough time to learn what is required.

Perhaps an optional language program, after-school, at some nominal cost to participants, would suit us. Those kind of "light-weight" options I hope will get attention too.

With the implications and price tags attached, we can see how FLES stacks up when it comes time to set strategic priorities and where we as a community really want to spend our time and dollars.


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Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2007 at 10:02 pm

Terry -- my impression, from watching the BOE meeting in which it was announced, that it's the aim of the committee to do exactly what you suggest.


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Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 1:44 am

Where is the teacher's opinions in all of this? I suggest soliciting those opinions.


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2007 at 7:55 am

Terry, I don't have elem. age children, but I thought I read that some of PAUSD's elem. schools do (or have in recent past) offer optional after-school language programs to their students. That is still a catch: not all students have equal opportunity, as it is only certain schools and certain years and certain languages. One may also question how much you really can get out of an after-school language program?? When my kids were little, they attended a private school in another city and we had Spanish like 2X/week and while there was nothing wrong with that, nobody could learn very much with that minimal time.

I prefer adding languages as an elective for ALL district 6th graders.


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Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2007 at 8:42 am

RWE -- the majority of people on the FLES ctte., as I understand it, will be teachers!


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 11:23 am

PA Dad, I believe too that was the proposed task force charter but I do worry about "boosterism" on the task force as well as actual boosters seeing the TF's existence as validation of FLES's priority. Hopefully Mr. Skelly will choose wisely for the members - we'll see how his political skills are.

K, I agree, those programs do exist. And your point is a good one - they don't do much for most kids (just as 5th grade band doesn't make most of them musicians). That's ok, if your goal is simply exposure and to allow those with an affinity to discover their interest and pursue it. But it shows the real challenge for FLES - anything more than exposure will require a large program teaching every kid, every week, every year, probably for a meaningful amount of time. And that requires a large effort as well as taking time from elsewhere (or extending the day specifically for this). The question will be - is this such a priority that we would want to undertake such a large scale effort (vs., say, closing the achievement gap)?

On the issue of equal access - if the district offered an optional program at each campus (regardless of number of enrollees), that would address the issue, no? Such a program would be operationally much simpler and provide the instruction at nominal cost for those who felt it was a priority for their child.


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Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Terry -- I'm not sure your worry about 'boosters' should be too big a concern at this point. Isn't the stated intention here for the BOE to have receive from the committee one or more real, well-thought through FLES options to think about when deciding whether FLES should, indeed, be a priority in the future? In other words, the committee is supposed to make a recommendation that directly informs, but does not pre-decide, the priority-setting process.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 1:10 pm

PA Dad, I believe you are correct about the charter for the task force and the way it is supposed to work. But the confusion already exists - in the editorial that started this thread it says:

"The parallel is that if the task force returns with strong recommendations that FLES should be a priority the school board would be extremely hard pressed to say no to moving ahead with some type of program — despite the fact that the board stopped short of committing to implementing FLES, in any form."

So the Editor is already thinking that the Task Force could recommend that FLES be a priority! And the school baord would be hard pressed to say no if it did. If he is confused about it, I can imagine what the average FLES supporter might be expecting. As the Editor points out, the feasibility study for MI became a key selling tool on why it should be done, not just an technocratic analysis of how it might be done.

As I said, we'll get a quick read on how politically savvy and effective Mr. Skelly is.


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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 2:26 pm

The EXACT same mysterious morph occured in the LAST study on a language program in this district.

The staff was chartered with coming back with a feasibility study - how much would it cost, was it a good fit with district priorities and policies, were the claims made in the proposal accurate, what would be the unintended consequences, what where the pros AND the cons. (One might expect a reasonably thorough feasibility study to come back in the form of scenarios, pros and cons, and some quantitative analysis on customer demand, comparables from other districts, expected student outcomes, etc.)

Instead the staff took the position that they were designing an approved project and creating an implementation plan. Their end result was a presumtive close on the existence of the program which jumped straight into a discussion of HOW they would proceed. No study on feasibility occured.

And the thing most important to this discussion is that the board and superintendent sanctioned this approach by failing to require that the appropriate feasibility study questions ever be answered before the program would be approved.

The reporter was right in suggesting that whatever the committee comes back with, the board will be hard pressed to send them back to the drawing board because they failed to answer the right question. A task force (made up MOSTLY of district resources) will spend a significant amount of time designing a FLES program to recommend when this district hasn't even determined that we want a FLES program yet. The question of community priority will be forgotten and ignored, once the board is presented with a program. The board will either be bullied or entranced into approving the program.

And if you think we HAVE determined that we want a FLES program, I ask: Based on what?? A handful of vocal parents that first pushed an MI program, and a resulting handful that pushed back? And that's enough to send our limited district staff resources off on a wild goose chase? There are 11,000 families (probably around 20,000 parents) served by PAUSD. We didn't even hear from a fraction of them. (How about a survey?)

As far as I can tell, this is just BOE sending us and staff off into a tailspin from the MI crash...


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Our dear BoE are quite able to say no to any recommendation, just ask any member of the former AAAG.


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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 4, 2007 at 3:46 pm

Parent, good point. But this is exactly what worries me. The AAAG task force consisted primarily of community members. PA Dad says that most of the FLES task force is staff. The message I'm getting - at least from the last Board & Superintendent - is that community task force opinions can be ignored, while a staff-populated task force can set the district's priorities.

Using this logic, one might argue that we should push for more community members on the FLES TF so we don't end up with the tail wagging the dog....but then we risk having the TF recommendations ignored. Damned if we do...

On second glance, PA Dad's exact words were that the majority of FLES committee members are *teachers*. I suppose this changes everything. It'll be interesting to see how their opinions are valued.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 3:53 pm

To be clear, YAP, I believe the Sup & BoE are asking the TF for options and implications, not whether FLES should be a "priority." The question is whether they'll get what they ask for.

I'm a little surprised - I would think that Skelly could have kept this internal (no parents) and then just reject/re-edit the report if it was too "editorial." With parents on board, he loses room to maneuver. Of course, maybe he has his parents already picked out and thinks he can get what he wants. We'll see!


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Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Oct 4, 2007 at 4:41 pm

Gotcha, Terry, and I agree with your take on how these TFs are intended to work. I'm just skeptical based on past performance. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression is that the last two task forces – MI & AAAG – were also asked for options and implications, not priority. Somewhere along the way the TF that you'd think would've taken priority was ignored, and the one that you'd think would've been sidelined until other issues were resolved took top priority. It's not a good track record.

So for me it's not a question of whether they'll get what they ask for, but rather if they'll treat the results with the appropriate level of urgency. "Appropriate" as defined by the Board, not the committee.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 5:03 pm

I agree with you YAP. Board defenders (not saying I'm one mind you) would say the board did give MI appropriate priority, turning it down, until the MI'ers played their charter school trump card.


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Posted by EuroParent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2007 at 7:38 pm

As someone who had to learn two foreign languages in school at the elementary level, I would like to say that language in those early years makes sense. I had two learn two very different languages for 40 mins a day, four times a week. I had absolutely no difficulty in differentiating between the two even though they were very different based languages.

Because I started young, my accent in both was very good as my vocal chords could get round the unusual sounds very easily. This is something that is much more difficult if you leave it until your teens.

Secondly, it not only helped learning that different letters, or combinations of letters, could make different sounds in different languages but that sentences were put together in different ways in different languages. This helped my English grammar immensely as all the grammar rules I was learning in spelling and English actually started making sense rather than just learning the rules for no apparent reason.

The last thing it helped me do, was to be able to speak English in a way that non-English speakers can understand. I became very good at using basic English without idioms and very simple phrases to non-English speakers and to do so in a way that they could understand. I find that many Americans when talking to someone whose English is poor, speak in idioms and expect others to understand which they don't. Americans also tend to shout to foreigners as if that will help them understand. Just this ability alone, speaking to non-English speakers in a simple way, is going to stand our children in good light for the rest of their lives when they meet foreigners.



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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Learning languages is a good things. It is an issue of how important it is vs. other things - to the community in general and to individual families. Some families feel it is very important; others feel it is very unimportant. EuroParent gives a good illustration of the level of effort needed to do a really good job. That level of commitment would require an enormous level of resource and rearrangement of elementary curriculum.

It does sound like a great after-school opportunity, though, if there is enough interest to sustain it.


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Posted by PA Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Terry -- once the FLES committee has reported it will be very important for the BOE to get a measure of community support for FLES as it considers its new list of top priorities. I'm sure I heard either Dr. Skelly or some members of the BOE saying exactly that when they discussed this.

The good thing about having this committee's report feed into the District priority process will be that the BOE will be soliciting opinions only on one or two very specific FLES proposals. That way we'll all (I hope!) know precisely what sort of program we'd be prioritizing when we talk about FLES.

As people have pointed out above, it's quite within the BOE's power -- after gauging community interest -- to favor other priorities over FLES. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if community sentiment has shifted from the last time it was polled. I think the MI debacle flushed out a considerable degree of pent-up demand for languages among elementary school parents. I think it might also be that parents of children just starting out in the district are, as a group, much more in favor of language education than the parents of children a decade or so older. As they come to represent an ever greater percentage of the parent body, I think we can only expect that support for FLES to increase. I hope the community outreach that the BOE does as a part of its priority-setting process will show us whether or not that's really the case.

On that note, though, I thought it was very interesting that Dr. Skelly was so clearly dismissive when BOE members brought up the question of adhering to the District's current world languages framework. The framework we have now, he said squarely, was out of date and didn't match the higher expectations that colleges now have for achievement in languages. That suggested to me that, along with the District's newer parents, he will also be pushing for improved foreign language offerings through the entire K-12 spectrum.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2007 at 11:34 pm

I noted that too, PA Dad - the "out of date" comment was reported in the paper. I agree, FLES gained some momentum as a result of the MI discussion. I hope we approach it with moderation - I expect we will find that a "full-on" primary school program is a large undertaking that will get a lot of push back from teachers. If in fact it is a "new want" there is the chance it will fade - may be best to proceed slowly.


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Posted by good luck
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 5, 2007 at 11:06 am

"it will be very important for the BOE to get a measure of community support for FLES as it considers its new list of top priorities."

PA Dad, you're overestimating the board here. Just ask yourself what sort of "measure of community support" or consideration for its "top priorities" did the current board members give when they approved MI?

No, the board's decisions are governed by a small group of people, not by any "measure of community support" for its decisions.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2007 at 3:49 pm

Only, FLES is more important to a much larger segment of parents than MI was. There's no need nor desire for bullying and underhanded tactics. Hopefully, that won't kill FLES.


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Posted by pa resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Interesting distance learning incorporated into leaning languages.

Web Link


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 8:06 pm

Parent, I'm not sure how widespread desire for FLES is. On the last strategic planning cycle (in 2004 I believe) it was not a high priority. We'll see where it is this time around.

GL, I'm no defender of the board, but they did vote MI down on the merits, and then changed their position explicitly because of their concerns about a charter. I don't think the MI proponents had the ear of the Board; more that they carried a big stick.


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 9:13 am

Instead of making comparisons with other countries that teach English as a second language, in my mind it may make more sense to compare with a country that also has English as a first language and see what it does. From the point of view of the UK, the same arguments could be used there for not teaching other languages, However, that is not the case. Language instruction is always being pushed at all levels of education. It is required to pass exams at secondary level and for university entrance. Many professions insist on a language for entry level, e.g. nursing. Many employers pay bonuses to those who are fluent in a second language and are willing to use it in their careers. A flag badge on the lapel of anyone working in uniform designates their proficiency in that language and their pay packet carries the benefits. I have yet to see any such thing in this country and it is even difficult to spot someone who speaks Spanish in California (other than the hispanics themselves) when there is obviously an advantage to do so. How many McDonalds or Walmarts employees are paid more for their ability to speak more than one language?


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Posted by reality check
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 2:47 pm

You get paid more for more than one language here when it is worth it to the employer to hire someone who is multilingual.

England is just a few miles from many different countries that speak many different languages.

Any Aussies here? How much is non-English language valued in Australia? Is there a drive to increase foreign language instruction there? That would be a better comparison.


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Britain is not as close as sharing a border with a large non-English speaking country.

I personally don't think it has much to do with proximity to other countries, we tend to be a pretty exclusionary island.

I would like to hear about other English speaking countries, how about Australia and even non-French speaking Canada?


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Posted by to clarify
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 8:23 pm

The border we share with the Spanish speaking countries is not one which tends to have tourists flocking to us, and us needing to speak the language to get their tourist business, nor speak the language to do massive amounts of business with them. That is what I meant by England and Europe. England's motivations are clear. Although, if it is true what the other thread mentionned about the same percent of primary schools offering foreign languages..that surprises me, given what I assumed would be a high motivation in Britain to learn other languages.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 8, 2007 at 11:22 pm

English-speaking Canadians tend to learn French as their second language for obvious reasons. For the same sort of reasons that I expect that Americans will generally learn Spanish as a second language. Though I think relatively few Canadians are truly bilingual, but I may be wayyy out of date on that one. It was the case many, many moons ago.

The English, when they bother, seem to learn French more than other foreign languages, though there's a certain demand for Latin--I believe it's required for some legal professions as early common law is written in Latin. Brit can correct me, this is just from my memory of the place.

Australia, which I Googled, seems to be even more devoted to all-English all the time than we are. And I'll bet it's the same for New Zealand--the two countries tend to swing in tandem.

One of the things I'm finding interesting is that there's clearly a political move by China to make Chinese seem more monolithic than it actually is. It was fascinating to read that the so-called Chinese dialects may have as much in common as English and French. If we use that kind of standard to aggregate European languages, then it's clear to me that Latin--i.e. Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese--is the world's most widely spoken language. Even more so, if you shove in English with its German grammar and Latinate vocabulary.

It's curious, too, that the Chinese government says that 53 percent of its population can communicate in Mandarin--so that 700 million isn't 700 native speakers. That's a number that doesn't seem to be let out in the same way.

English benefits from a historical double-whammy. The Brits colonized everywhere, so it became necessary for people in many areas to learn English. Post-colonial period, the U.S. took a dominant business and politial role. So another set of reasons to learn English.

At this point, we have generations of people who have learned English as a second language. In contrast, even with a heavily centralized, dictatorial government, China could not get much more than half of its population to learn Mandarin.

English has been dispersed throughout the world. I don't know that if there's going to be a chance for another language to become widespread in that way.


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2007 at 1:21 pm

It is true that the first choice language for most Britons is French, due to its proximity and the common rivaly the two nations have always had between them. However, there is also much Spanish and German taught.

I can't speak as to how many primary schools are actually teaching languages and making them a priority. But, I regularly read BBC websites and The Economist and from what I read, there is always arguments for doing better at languages from the Department of Education, education bodies and large employers that ask for the schools to do a better job. The Civil Service in particular is looking for employees who speak more than one language. It is not for tourism primarily that causes this push, most tourists coming to Britain nowadays are not from Europe, but from further afield, and most from Europe do speak English. No, the reason for the push on languages from what I read are for the same type of reasons as seen here. Most of the arguments appear to be from immigration, security, and economic perspectives.

Latin is definitely still being taught, particularly for those in the legal or medical fields. But, going back to the days I was in school, it was through the medium of learning Latin that the average student learnt English grammar and the basis of learning any other language. I remember very little English grammar being taught beyond the primary level as most of my English classes were spent learning literature, poetry and self expression. By learning Latin my English, particularly spelling and written composition, vastly improved. In fact, I have heard criticism that since Latin is no longer taught as much as previously, the standard of written English in Britain has declined accordingly.


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