Only 20% of US kids study a language in school—compared to 92% in Europe

  • 2018-08-13
  • Quartz

Kids in the US take classes in English, which works out pretty well for them. The dominant global language right now happens to be their default. Perhaps that’s one reason why only 20% of US students in kindergarten through 12th grade learn a foreign language, according to new Pew Research Center data.

That’s strikingly low compared to Europe, where more than 90% of youth study at least one foreign language, and often more than one. For a young person in Romania, say, it makes sense to start learning other languages early, as their mother tongue isn’t spoken much beyond the country’s borders.

Another factor at play, beyond geography and lack of national standards, may also be the extent to which learning another language is a practical necessity. English speakers don’t really need to bone up on their Dutch, for example. English is an official language in 59 countries, the first language of 400 million speakers worldwide, spoken by a billion more.