by Angela Pack Zia, Executive Director of Think Bilingual Austin
Multilingual education that promotes additive language and literacy skills is more important today than ever before. Yet, in my line of work, I often hear a number of excuses that are repeatedly given as to why people do not seek multilingual education for their children. Some people say “What is the use?” citing that they studied a foreign language in high school and never learned to speak it. Some address the challenge of maintaining the second language in a monolingual culture after a level of proficiency has been achieved. Others still question why learning a second language is necessary in a world where most are striving to learn English. Yet, in most of the excuses I hear, I found that the most common sentiment is best summed up best with a quote by Richard Brecht, from the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language:
“It isn’t that people don’t think language is important. It’s that they don’t think it’s possible.”
The Magellan International School understands that multilingual education is both possible and extremely important for the current and future workforce. In fact, Magellan is proving to be a leader in our community in redefining what it means to be an educated person in the 21st Century by demonstrating that it is indeed not only possible to raise a multilingual and highly educated workforce but also one that is ready to take on the global and local challenges of today and tomorrow.
In today’s global climate, we can no longer depend on the excuse that “others have to learn English” as a convenient reason for not supporting early multilingual education. A recent report released by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences shows that the lack of bilinguals in American society will lead to an economic and social disadvantage in our global and multilingual society.
The global economy has regional economic powerhouses that are no longer dominated by the English-speaking world. This means that while English is and will continue to be a key language in which most international business is discussed, it is no longer the only language of commerce.
Spanish and Mandarin are top competing economic regional languages due to both the large number of native speakers (Mandarin has over one billion native speakers in China followed by Spanish with more than 450 million native speakers in 22 countries) and their regional economic and social dominance (China with Mandarin is a regional economic powerhouse in Asia and Spanish has a broad global presence encompassing North and South America and Europe). Examples can be seen in reports that show how China is investing heavily in teaching their workforce Spanish to help cultivate investment opportunities in both Latin America and Europe. The Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish language learning center, alone, saw global enrollment across 87 cities quadruple within a ten year period between 2003 and 2013. The regional social and economic influences wielded in these dominant languages have resulted in an increased number of people all over the world learning not only Mandarin and Spanish but also other dominant regional languages like Arabic and Hindi that wield strong influence in other key economic and geopolitical regions.
In the U.S. one out of every five jobs is linked to international trade. Most businesses that send people abroad understand how important it is to find employees who can quickly acclimate and assimilate in the culture and language they are doing business. However, multilinguals are not just important for businesses working abroad. In fact, multilingual skills are becoming increasing important in doing business at home in the United States.
The demand for bilingual jobs in the U.S. job market continues to rise. A study by the New America Economy found that the demand for bilingual jobs posted online more than doubled between 2010 and 2015. This increase in demand for bilinguals was found across the board for all skill levels; however, the need for bilinguals in jobs with skills that required higher level of education increased the most. The report demonstrated a 27% growth for “high prestige” jobs and a 18.2% growth for “highest prestige” jobs. These high and highest prestige jobs are defined by jobs that require of a bachelor degree or higher combined with corresponding income and social prestige. They include jobs in banking, legal sector, medical and technology. This finding also corroborates with U.S. Labor Department’s prediction that translators will be one of the jobs highest in demand within the next 15 years.
To prepare our children, we need to understand that multilingual education is not only possible but is also in the best interest of our children and our community. The best time to learn a second language is before middle school; the earlier the child is exposed to the second language the more likely he will develop proficiency earlier on. However, multilingual education requires intent, knowledge of how to teach language, and a community that supports the language learning process at school and at home. The Magellan International School understands this process and works diligently to educate families and demonstrate all that is possible.
About the Author: Angela Pack Zia is Founder and Executive Director of Think Bilingual Austin, a local 501c(3) organization dedicated to building community and creating opportunities through bilingualism and multiculturalism. Before founding Think Bilingual, Angela worked in international business development and management, consulted in a number of economic development and corporate social responsibility projects, and volunteered in a variety of ESL and tutoring programs. Angela has a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Political Science from Georgetown College and a daughter, Gabriella, in 3rd grade at Magellan.