Sunday, October 07, 2012

Guest Post: Online Universities and Resources Look to Increase Bilingualism Around the World

Learning a language is a very valuable skill in a globalizing and increasingly competitive economy; however as this post discusses, it is something few Americans have managed to do. As technology improves, online language classes are becoming a viable option for people to use when learning a new language. Brave New Words visited the issue of a lack or language training in the United States in a guest article about 5 years ago. But since then, many more options have become available through the Internet for Americans who wish to learn a second language, as Jennifer Jenkins writes below. Jennifer is well-versed in all issues related to technology and online learning. Frequently, she contributes to, a resource for students who are considering attending school online.

Despite the need for bilingualism within our globalized society, most Americans only speak one language. Today, many US citizens are turning to web-based resources in order to learn another language – and many experts agree that these measures are highly effective.

According to a Gallup survey, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe that English fluency should be compulsory for US immigrants. However, the poll also revealed that only one quarter of the population could hold a conversation in a language other than English; the majority (55 percent) spoke Spanish, followed by European languages like French (17 percent) and German (10 percent). Rates of bilingualism did seem to increase with education; while one-fifth of high school graduates are bilingual, the percentage rose for college students (25 percent), college graduates (33 percent) and those with postgraduate degrees (43 percent). However, nearly 70 percent of all Americans believe that bilingualism is either essential or valuable in today’s job market.

According to a March 2012 article in The New York Times, employment opportunities are merely one of the benefits of bilingualism. Recent studies indicate that learning another language improves mental and cognitive skills – and may even ward off dementia and other conditions that come with age. Additionally, those who speak two or more languages are also more aware of their surroundings, says Spanish researcher Albert Costa. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” he noted. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” There are also social benefits, due to the diverse social fabric in this country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children (ages 5-17) who spoke a second language at home rose from 10 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2009. In the coming years, bilingualism will play a major role in the way Americans communicate with one another.

The solution to improving widespread bi- and multilingualism may lie with the Internet, writes Eric A. Taub of NYT. As connectivity has risen on a global level and the advent of social media has essentially brought the world together, many companies have unveiled language programs for the masses. Breaking away from traditional curricula, these programs utilize interactive media, social networking and other unconventional tools to teach new language fluency. Many of these programs are free, though experts note that even the most expensive ones are far less costly than college tuition. And while brick-and-mortar courses typically require a substantial time commitment from students, e-courses allow learners to acquire language skills at their convenience.

The most popular electronic language program in recent years has been Rosetta Stone. For $1,000, students receive structured lessons, live video chats with native speakers and access to a web-based discussion forum; Rosetta Stone currently offers 30 language programs. TellMeMore is another popular online program. For an annual fee of $390, users can access extensive glossaries, communicate with native speakers via video and complete practice exercises for up to six different languages. Less expensive options include LiveMocha, which offers free lessons and charges a small fee for live tutorials with native speakers, and Babbel, which offers free trial lessons in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, followed by a fee of $12 per month. Free programs include BBC Languages, which features audio and video media for more than 30 languages, and Busuu, an interactive course that utilizes online communities. Finally, smartphone apps are available from Lonely Planet Phrasebooks, Oxford Translator Travel Pro and World Nomad.

For years, Americans have earned a negative reputation among the international community for their low collective levels of bilingualism. Now, thanks to electronic media, US citizens are learning foreign languages at an unprecedented rate. 

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