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The Exchange

Why Do So Few Americans Learn A Second Language?

Foreign Language @ TNCC

Even as the world becomes more globalized, and most Americans agree that learning a second language is desirable, the majority never do learn a second language beyond the requisite couple years of high school. Today we’ll look at some of the arguments for moving toward a more multilingual society, and some of the barriers to achieving that.


  • Yuliya Komska – assistant professor of German Studies at Dartmouth College. She recently wrote about the ‘monolingual American’ for the magazine Pacific Standard, and she is working on a children’s book about multilingualism. She is from Ukraine.
  • Marty Abbott – executive director of the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages.


  • Guardian roundtable on whether native English speakers ought to learn another language: "The British Academy's report, Languages: the State of the Nation, published in February 2013, discovered "strong evidence of a growing deficit in foreign language skills at a time when globally the demand for languages is expanding" in the UK. A follow up report, Lost for Words, published last November, found deficits in foreign language skills within the government threatened the UK's future security and capacity for global influence."
  • Huffington Post looks at what it would take for the U.S. to become more bilingual: "We need to value our own bilinguals and emulate them so that we become better Americans. The challenge is that we are still so heavily monolingual. Grosjean writes, "...the more monolingual a group or country is, the more difficult it is for the society to understand that bilinguals are a real asset to a nation in terms of what they can bring to cross-cultural communication and understanding."
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