According to an article from Forbes Leadership Forum written by Katharine B. Nielson, chief education officer at Voxy (a language-learning company), the United States, as a linguistically isolated country where only a small percentage of the population can speak a foreign language, should be focusing on changing and modernising language teaching methodology. She asserts that a communicative approach to language learning would help reverse current trends, which are partly a consequence of grammar-focused lessons which students struggle to make sense of.
Not Entirely a Funding Issue
When compared to European countries, where around half the population can speak more than one language, the United States stands as a greatly monolingual country, with only 17 per cent of the population able to speak a second language. Nielson demystifies popular opinions which state that increasing government funding will help fix the problem and, instead, highlights the importance of leaving old-fashioned language teaching methods behind to avoid losing business opportunities as a consequence of the lack of linguistic abilities.
Language as a Means of Instruction
Instead of grammar-focused lessons, which generally come across as boring or useless to beginner language learners, the education officer suggests making up curricula having communicative ends in mind. Teaching students how to communicate with other by means of language rather than focusing on language itself can have several advantages, and there is a current body of knowledge and research which suggests that language classes must be altered before language abilities can improve.
One of Nielson’s suggestions to do this involves rethinking language classes which, according to her, need not be separate from the rest of the content learning. At the beginning, classes such as music or gym can be taught in a foreign language, which would allow students to pick up grammar and vocabulary in an engaging way. As these students advance to secondary level courses, they could be introduced to all types of more complex courses taught in a foreign language. This would mean that the language would be regarded as a means of instruction and a way of achieving content acquisition rather than something which needs to be studied per se.
This new method would also allow for an easier integration of students for whom English is a second language. In classes which are being taught in a foreign language, students who are generally positioned in a disadvantage are given the opportunity to contribute with extra knowledge and be a part of the solution.