In 2008, US President Barack Obama infamously exclaimed, “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” While the mainstream reaction to this statement was not quite what the President might have expected, his reasoning, as it later came to the fore, relied mainly on the question – Why do Americans mostly speak one single language?
English, as is commonly known, is America’s de facto national language, and is spoken with some level of proficiency by more than 95% of its population. Spanish, which finds the second highest number of speakers, is spoken by a little more than 12% of its populace. Native American languages are spoken limitedly owing to a decline in population, and their usage outside reservations is quite uncommon.
Data pertaining to the use of languages released by the American Community Survey in 2010 showed that just under 20% of the nation’s population aged over five years used a foreign tongue to converse at home, and that’s roughly about one in five people. In addition, the diversity includes languages from just about every corner in the world. What the survey also showed is that there has been a steady rise in the number of people speaking a foreign tongue at home over the past 3 decades.
Lack of Importance?
What is seen is that the use of most foreign languages is often limited to homes or social groups, and their extensive usage in the schooling or professional arenas leaves a lot to be desired. With children normally finding no ‘real’ use of learning a foreign language, most Americans, and especially ones in English speaking households, continue to limit their language skills to English.
The percentage of people in the US who choose to learn a foreign language without it being spoken at home is almost insignificant, and this is probably something that needs to be addressed. And until that is done, we can continue asking, “Why do Americans mostly speak one single language?”
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