United States schools and colleges should begin teaching every student a second language. And we must begin now. It is a mark of an uneducated man to be monolingual; furthermore, it's an enormous detriment to international understanding. It's also very bad for business.
The US is a leader in the world -- a leader in almost every way. But in our ability to converse with our neighbors in their own tongue, we are not leaders. We are, as Rep. Paul Simon (R) of Illinois asserts, "tongue-tied."
How shall we start the campaign to require language training in all US public and private schools? First off, ask every school board member and school superintendent to read "The Tongue-Tied American," by Paul Simon (New York: Continuum. $12.95).
At the same time, ask every state to add a teacher certification requirement of fluency in a second language. Not a language requirement just for those few teachers who will be teaching language classes, but fluency in a second language as basic requirement of all educated men and women before they can join a school staff.
What to do about all those hundreds of thousands of teachers in our public elementary and secondary schools who are presently monolingual? Give them three years to learn a second language.
And where should they go to learn one? Why, right in their own school district. That is, the present high school language classes should be expanded to include adults as well as school-age children and all techers without fluency in a second language should be expected to take at least one free period a week to attend a language class.
These same teachers should be expected to study after school in the language laboratory, and where computer- assisted instruction is available, take advantage of language drill programs. Some teachers will be able to make up for their lack of fluency fairly quickly, building possibly on partially remembered language instruction.
Other teachers will have to make a special commitment to continue to qualify as educated teachers as they build fluency in a second language into their admittedly busy schedules.
But if school districts will use the facilities now in place and require teachers to augment school-year instruction with summer school, the cost of retraining about 2 million teachers would not be prohibitive.
Of course, what would give grand impetus to this second-languae requirement, would be a new emphasis on language teaching for all secondary-school pupils.
What many schools may find is that it's only necessary for a skilled language teacher to meet once or twice a week with a student, and that drill and practice can be undertaken individually by youngsters as well as by teachers-turned-students
And, of course, the great untapped source of instructional help in every community are all those who already speak a second language. The pairing of one or two students with a native speaker of a language other than English, will, or course, do wonders for the pupils.
But, what to do about colleges which dont' have language requirements either for entrance or for graduation? State legislatures can, of course, make language proficiency a graduation requirement from all public institutions of higher learning and can require fluency in a second language part of the requirement for a bachelor's degree.
Such a requirement can be put into effect immediately with a two-year grace period for all those now enrolled in a degree program. Assuredly, private colleges have led the way.
What's startling is that so many college and university authorities in the US have allowed young academicians to earn degrees without proficiency in a second language. Such a stance is indefensible. Before the world had shrunk, long before international cooperation was essential, almost every educated man or woman learned at least one other modern language, and almost all expecting to graduate from a four-year college, thought Latin and/or Greek essential equipment. We must return to this academic status.
Paul Simon cites some disturbing statistics in "The Tongue-Tied American."
* In 1915 all but 15 percent of US colleges required competency in a second language for graduations. Sixty- five years later less than 10 percent do.
* Today some 90 percent of those training to be teachers have never taken any course exposing them to the language or culture of another country.
* Some 300 million people speak Hindi, yet less than 300 US college students a year study Hindi.
* Of those graduating from US public high school today, less than 4 percent have studied more than two years of a second language.
To repeat the lead sentence: US schools and colleges should begin teachi ng every student a second language.