Bilingualism in the United States

Daphne Tang ‘19

As globalization increases, the ability to communicate in multiple languages is rewarded with more job opportunities and higher salaries. For the United States, a nation comprised of immigrants, a significant portion of the population are bilingual or multilingual. According to Center for Immigration Studies, “In 2013, a record 61.8 million U.S. residents… spoke a language other than English at home,” but bilingualism levels in the United States are lower than those in other continents [4]. Europe, for instance, have groups of people speaking different languages located closer together [5].  

Bilingualism, however, is worth pursuing because it enhances cognitive performance. In a study conducted by psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual children demonstrated considerable ease sorting blue circles and red squares by shape instead of color into two groups on a computer while monolingual preschoolers struggled [1]. This illustrates that bilingualism improves the brain’s executive function, which determines a person’s ability to disregard distractions, switch between tasks, and remember information [1]. Recently, scientists also established a correlation between bilingualism and resistance against neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s [1]. Thus, learning multiple languages can stimulate a child’s brain development and improve physical health.

Furthermore, bilingualism provides benefits in the business world. Companies seek to hire employees with the ability to expand their business in the international market, attract new customers in foreign nations, or cater to a specific ethnic group in the United States. For instance, a knowledge of Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic is increasingly important as the influence of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East rises in the international market [2]. Kevin Tang ‘20 writes, “Now that the global economy has become increasingly interconnected, bilingualism helps people in the job market, allowing them to communicate with a larger range of consumers and employees.” In addition, employees who know different languages receive higher salaries and can travel to other countries for work [2].

Bilingualism also establishes a bond between family members by uniting them with one cultural background. Annie Zhao ‘18 explains, “Ten years of Chinese school were grueling. However, I can’t imagine my life without knowing both Chinese and English. All of my family speaks Chinese, so my second language is the only way I can connect with my relatives.” For second generation immigrants, learning their parents’ language is a way to preserve cultural identity.

Ridge High School’s two-year foreign language requirement prepares our students by equipping them with basic knowledge of Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, Mandarin, or American Sign Language. Through a variety of CP, honors, and AP courses, students develop a foundation for conversing in another language and gain valuable insight into the cultural backgrounds of different countries. Spanish students, for example, embark on research and presentation projects about cultural icons in Argentina, the Spanish Civil War, and holidays in Spanish-speaking countries. By taking reading, listening, and writing assessments, Ridge High School students acquire valuable skills that will strengthen their competitiveness in the job market, open their eyes to a variety of fascinating cultures, and connect them with other people across the globe.

Moreover, Ridge High School graduates have the option to take the test for the New Jersey State of Biliteracy, which certifies that a student has achieved a high level of proficiency in two or more languages [3]. Not only will this allow employers to recognize bilingual employees, but it will also promote foreign language instruction in schools.

Because bilingualism improves cognitive performance, provides advantages in the business world, and allows people to connect with others of different cultures, schools in the United States should continue to promote the learning of foreign languages for the benefit of society as a whole.