Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Help city kids speak Mandarin, Arabic and more: Foreign language education is shamefully bad in this global city

Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that within 10 years all New York City public school students will take computer science classes is welcome news. But Java, Python and C++ are not the only languages critical for 21st century success. Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and French are vital, too.

Learning human languages other than English is not only a major career asset, it opens the door to cross-cultural understanding, boosts self-esteem and expands horizons in so many ways.

Sadly, in the nation’s most diverse and global city, home to the United Nations, the benefits that come with learning a foreign language are being acquired by far too few public school students.

The era of intense focus on (and standardized testing in) math and English has taken a heavy toll on foreign language instruction in New York City. Our young people learn in schools where foreign languages have been pushed to the margins.

Only about 5% of our elementary school students receive regular instruction in world languages. Most young people don’t take their first course in another language until high school.”

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Languages do matter!


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