Are Monolingual Americans Missing Out?
By Bryan Caplan
Many found my statement here outrageous:
To understand why Americans don’t learn foreign languages, simply reverse this reasoning. We don’t learn foreign languages because foreign languages rarely helps us get good jobs, meet interesting people, or enjoy culture.
To me, it’s just plain fact.
1. Jobs. Very few jobs in the U.S. require or even use foreign languages.
2. Interesting people. Most Americans don’t make friends with foreigners who do speak fluent English. Are we really supposed to believe they’d have a lot more in common with foreigners who don’t speak English? If you object, “Everyone I know has lots of foreign friends,” you’re just underscoring the fact that you’re far from a typical American.
3. Culture. Most Americans don’t even watch foreign movies with subtitles or read foreign novels in translation. And these are the foreign cultural products that Americans are most likely to enjoy. After all, businesses tend to translate and market foreign cultural products with relatively high mass appeal. Are we really supposed to believe that many Americans would prefer foreign culture so esoteric that no business bothers with English translation?
If you find the typical American insufferably insular and low-brow, I agree. My point is that given his insular, low-brow ways, the typical American who remains monolingual isn’t missing much. He doesn’t even avail himself of the foreign experiences he can enjoy in English; why would he strive to expand his menu? If you reply that, “Making the typical American learn a foreign language will open his mind,” even I think you’re spending too much time in your Bubble.