Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

American indifference to foreign language learning

American indifference to foreign language learning

Junguk Spurrier

This paper examines why America has such negative attitudes toward foreign languages and foreign language learning. In particular, why is French not considered as a prestigious language any more in the United States? First, the author reviews previous literature showing that America used to be tolerant of foreign languages and cultures as a young nation. French was considered as the language of high culture, diplomacy and literature and was widely learned until America became the superpower of the world. Second, the author investigates how Cajun French was labeled as non-high class language as it was widely spoken among blacks and Indians, which further discredited the long-held image that French was associated with prestigious high culture. Third, the author further argues that growing power of United States in the world stage after World War I made its government and citizens alike complacent about foreign language learning. French was even used as a pretentious object of ridicule in recent political discourse. Fourth, a review of related articles establishes that the critical period of foreign language learning is wasted in primary schools in the United States. Finally, it is argued that by changing American indifference toward foreign language learning, United States will benefit from world heritage cultures and its political and economic influence on the world stage. Further case studies about how enhanced foreign language learning program benefits America’s political and economic influence in world stage will convince complacent skeptics around the nation.

Keywords: French, foreign language, American attitude, power, indifference

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April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract

4 Comments »

  1. Your abstract is interesting, Junguk. I agree with you that there are many advantages to being
    exposed to a foreign language/culture at an early age. I am wondering though if you have looked at
    all at another dimension, and that is, how useful Americans believe a foreign language is to them,
    given that an average American may not travel too much abroad, and even when they do, they can use
    English in many places. From this perspective, French may not be very desirable as a foreign
    language. On the other hand, it seems
    that the pendulum is shifting now more toward offering Chinese, which again seems to have to do with
    how useful one perceives a foreign language to be to them.

    Comment by Ljiljana Progovac | April 18, 2012 | Reply

  2. I think it would be interesting to explore the role of pragmatism in justifying both reasons for and reasons against learning a foreign language. Do other cultures employ pragmatic arguments for learning other languages?

    Comment by Michael Thomas | April 19, 2012 | Reply

  3. Look for a shift in motivations. Americans don’t look to French as a vehicle of high culture, true. American pop culture has swamped the rest of the world. In the 70s and 80s, Americans were learning Japanese and Arabic as languages of commerce; Chinese has been added for the same reason.

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  4. I am very interested in your topic, It falls along the same lines as mine! I do have similar questions and concerns as Michael. It would be interesting to explore how other countries incorporate “foreign” language learning into their repertoire. Good luck with your final draft!

    Comment by Stephanie Nava | April 24, 2012 | Reply


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