We must promote multilingualism in our schools (Rep. Judy Chu)

The words that really stood out to me, however, came at the end of his remarks when he said, “I want you to take away the notion that life is precious, and part of what makes it so wonderful is its diversity, that all of us are different.” I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, the current system too often limits our students’ exposure to other cultures and languages. If we’re to fully embrace life’s wonderful diversity, this must change.

About a year ago, the President set a goal for our country to reclaim the highest college graduation rate in the world. It’s a worthy goal and one I strongly support, but it’s not enough. We don’t just need college graduates. We need college graduates ready to compete on the world’s stage.

Years ago, my mother immigrated to America at the age of 19, right before our country prohibited travel to China. For the next 25 years, she had virtually no contact with her family. But what isolated her even more was her inability to use English. Until she went to an adult education program to learn her second language, she never fully integrated into American society.

Today, the lack of a second language doesn’t just isolate people. It makes them less competitive. There’s a Spanish proverb that says, “The person who speaks two languages is worth two." And that’s why neglecting foreign language instruction prevents students from realizing their full worth.

Lacking international knowledge and experience, many of today’s young Americans aren’t prepared for the increasingly global economy of tomorrow. This shortcoming limits our ability to address future international challenges. It restrains our relationships with other nations and could someday threaten our national security.

Moreover, studies show that learning a second language improves cognitive flexibility. Because dual language learners naturally consider multiple meanings for words, they’re better able to manage complex situations. And that’s a skill our next generation of supervisors and executives can all use.

That’s why legislation that creates a multilingual society is so important. These programs don’t just promote a second language; they advance the American workforce. Unfortunately, current instruction in our country lags behind our global competitors’. In Asia and Europe, the question is not whether you speak another language – it’s how many.

That’s why I strongly support the Providing Resources to Improve Dual Language Education (PRIDE) Act, which establishes and expands language programs in classrooms across the country, closing this gap. And since children more easily absorb foreign languages than older students and adults, I’ll soon introduce the Global Languages Early Education (GLEE) Act to focus funds on early education. Because, developing our youngest minds is the best path toward increased fluency now and improved competitiveness later.

I’ll be pushing for a greater focus on foreign and dual-language programs in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and I encourage all of my colleagues to support this effort.

Promoting multilingualism in our nation’s schools ensures that the next generation of American students won’t just travel the globe, they’ll shape it.

More in Education

Riding the mobile wave back to school

Read more »