Language Education Standards Hold Montana Back

This is the age of globalism. People are more closely connected now than at any other point in history. Traveling to the other side of the world can be accomplished in hours when years ago it took weeks, and communication is instantaneous thanks to the Internet.

Why am I going on about the modern miracles of technology, you ask? Simple: The world is changing and Montana isn’t keeping up.

Many a graduate bemoans the job market they face when leaving the university. We are told to seek any kind of skill or knowledge that will set us apart from other applicants. In today’s global society, there is one skill that is a plus on any application: fluency in a foreign language.

Montana, like most other states in the union, does not have a state mandated requirement of foreign language class credits for high school graduation. Similarly, the Montana University System does not require any foreign language credits for college admission nor graduation, individual departments and programs notwithstanding. On a larger scale, the United States is unlike most developed nations in the world in that it does not require classes in a second or third language during elementary or high school years. Apparently this just isn’t a priority to the world’s cultural melting pot.

On the other side of the coin we have Japan and its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, in which the government pays to hire native speakers in English and other languages to live in the country to teach school-age children. Similar programs have been created in China and Korea. While these countries are making this investment in bilinguality to get ahead, the United States lags behind with no national standard for second languages and cuts to modern language programs across the nation.

This is hurting our students and our future as a nation. Even remaining monolingual in the United States itself is becoming a more difficult option as immigration and international commerce increasingly dominate business. To face this problem, Montana should require foreign languages as part of high school curricula.

Of course, the issue that has to be addressed immediately is cost. Yes, it would be costly. This plan would require hundreds of new instructors, but would be an investment in Montana and its future.

Some would counter that the benefit in Montana would be less than in other regions — that for a Montanan to even put bilingual skills to work they would have to seek employment outside the state.

However, Montana businesses would benefit from a bilingual work force. When dealing with international companies, Montanans with bilingual employees would make their business a more appealing option than a monolingual one.

This is an opportunity for Montana to lead rather than lag behind. This is an opportunity to invest in Montana’s children and its business future. Like the frontiersmen that settled this state, we should ride forward and carve a new path for a new tomorrow.