Why Are So Many Americans Monolingual?

In America, it is more common to find a monolingual person, contrasting with the rest of the world.

Courtesy of the Southeast Schnitzel

In America, it is more common to find a monolingual person, contrasting with the rest of the world.

Anita Tun, Photojournalist

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States seems to be lacking in an area: knowing multiple languages. Most Americans are known to be monolingual, while in other countries, it is common to come across a person fluent in various languages. Although the United States has no official language, it is evident that English is dominantly utilized, so many seem to suffice with only knowing this language.


Since English is a predominantly spoken language worldwide, people may not feel like they need to learn other languages to be successful or to communicate with others. Julian Lisboa (10) agrees with this statement and believes “Americans don’t feel the need to learn another language simply off the facts that America is so diverse already and students don’t feel the need to learn a language they won’t ever use. ” In 2019, approximately 1.27 billion people spoke English, making it the most spoken language in the world that year (Statistica).


English is the lingua franca across numerous fields including business, science, and aviation. The language, dominating in so many of these sectors, is another reason why Americans may not find it critical to pick up another language. While 15-20% of Americans are bilingual, 56% of Europeans are bilingual (The Daily Texan).


Although many schools require students to take a foreign language for at least two years to graduate high school in California, this period will not make students fluent or adequate enough for students to be immersed in a language.


California is one of the 11 states with a foreign language requirement; however, 16 states do not have foreign language requirements, and 24 states have graduation requirements that can be attained by fulfilling numerous subjects, including a foreign language (American Councils). About 20% of American students learn another language, but the median for European students is 92% (Pew Research Center).


According to the Pew Research Center, students as young as six years olds learn a foreign language in almost every country in Europe. Also, over 20 European countries make students learn two foreign languages for at least one year (Quartz). These European students learn another language from a young age, which research has shown that it is significantly easier to learn a foreign language younger. However, in the United States, only 15% of elementary schools offer foreign language classes (Washington Post), and in 2008, 18.5% of elementary and middle school students in the United States reported learning a foreign language (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages).


Although English is such a predominant language and some Americans do not feel like learning a foreign language to “keep up with the world,” learning a foreign language is critically beneficial. Whether a foreign language improves the mind in numerous ways such as memory, enhancing the skill to communicate with others across the globe, or opening up job opportunities, learning a foreign language is crucial in this diverse world.