Feb. 21st, 2017

I'm currently reading When in French by Lauren Collins, and I'm really enjoying it. It's a bit of history, a bit of memoir, and a lot of discussion of language acquisition--so it's fantastic. 

I just thought that I'd include some statistics in the most recent chapter of this book: 
  • "Only 18 percent of American schoolchildren are enrolled in foreign language courses, while 94 percent of European high-school students are studying English."
  • "In 1906 Congress passed a law precluding citizenship for any alien 'who can not speak the English language.' (According to the 1910 census, this amounted to 23 percent of the foreign-born population."
In WWI, these pledges were circulated to schoolchildren: 
 
"I love the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. 
I love my country's LANGUAGE.
I PROMISE: 
1. That I will not dishonor my country's speech by leaving off the last syllables of words:
2. That I will say a good American 'yes' and 'no' in place of an Indian grunt 'un-hum' and 'nup-um' or a foreign 'ya' or 'yeh' or 'nope.':
3. That I will do my best to improve American speech by avoiding loud harsh tones, by enunciating distinctly and speaking pleasantly, clearly, and sincerely:
4. That I will try to make my country's language beautiful for the many boys and girls of foreign nations who will come to live here:
5. That I will learn to articulate correctly one word a day for a year." 

Collins succinctly summarized the state of language acquisition in the U.S.: "While learning a foreign language is considered prestigious, acquiring one naturally is stigmatized. We think of foreign languages as extremely hard to learn, but we're incensed when immigrants don't speak English perfectly." 

Lately, language acquisition is on my mind (especially as I continue to volunteer in a community ESL program). It is frustrating that the same antiquated ideas are still circulating in the minds of many Americans, and that we are only just beginning to realize the toxicity of forced monolingualism. 


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