After reading and agreeing with one of my classmates, Jack McNenny, blog on the lack of foreign language in our schools, I became interested in how countries throughout the Middle East implement foreign language throughout their education, and how it differs from the United States.
But They’re Just Children..
Americans tend to view the concept of having foreign language in early childhood education as “too much” since they’re “just children.” Or, that children need to focus on learning basic life skills, rather than introducing them to another language.
Well, naturally, this is not a view shared across the world. On top of already speaking Arabic, children in Syria begin to learn English in first grade! Could you imagine being an American students and coming home to show your parents the new Arabic terms you were introduced to for that week at such a young age? Amazing.
Once the students have mastered English, Syrian children then begin to learn French at the start of their 7th grade year. While this may not seem as a surprise since schools across the United States begin to offer French near the same age, this is the third language they are introduced to. The third! Incredible. French has stood as the third language requirement for years, however, at the start of the 2014 academic year, Syrian students now have the option of choosing between learning French or Russian.
One may ask, “Why Russian?” Well, being allies and longtime supporters of each other, the Syrian government believes that in order to enhance the relationship, students should have the option to learn Russian. They want Syrian’s to be exposed to a culture with whom they share common ties with. Another reason for introducing Russian into the school systems due to the high percentage of families throughout Syria who have members of Russian descent.
Valued Across the Middle East
“ARTICLE 50 of the Educational policy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia states that students should learn at least one foreign language so that they may interact with people of other cultures for the purpose of contributing to the message of Islam and serving humanity.”
Aside from the current curriculum change in foreign language departments across Syria, the value of learning another language is not a new concept for the Middle East. While having a majority Arabic speaking country, Saudi Arabian students also begin learning English early on. From primary education to universities studies, English is the main foreign language taught throughout their lives, leaving it to become spoken widely across the country. Also, being fluent in both Arabic and English has put them at a complete advantage when seeking employment. Who wouldn’t want to have a bilingual advantage?
Similarly, in Turkish education, children are also introduced to a more worldly view through the power of foreign language at a young age. Early on, students have the option of learning German, French or English. While they may have options just as high school students in the states do, Turkish schools teach English as their main foreign language throughout their education. In some schooling systems, students begin to take all of their courses in English once they have taken a year to prepare. Learning different subjects in a foreign language? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. While not all Turkish school systems follow this structure, they still incorporate hours of English studies throughout a majority of their education.
Take Notes, America
I believe that it would be wise for the states to grow stronger relationships with the world by upholding the value of learning a foreign language as people do in the Middle East. Personally, I see becoming fluent in another language upon high school graduation as something that should be a mandatory requirement due to how beneficial it will be. However, with this, students should be introduced to these languages at a much younger age; just as they do in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I will forever be envious of Middle Eastern students and others across the globe who had early exposure to different cultures at a young age.