American DreamNon-native English speaking students trying to enter the higher education system in the United States face daunting challenges. Consider first the requirement at most institutions that a student have four years of high school English. The premise of the American Dream is that more education leads to increased socioeconomic status, guaranteeing a better life for the next generation. This premise, however, is complicated for non-English speaking students.

Don’t get me wrong – I firmly believe that if you are going to live and work in a country, you need to be proficient with the language. It is deeply engrained in my family history. My grandfather spoke no English when he arrived in the United States from Spain in 1918. He did not petition for the United States to adapt to his language nor did he expect signs to be written in Spanish. He learned the language on his own while working 50+ hours per week.

This may sound harsh, and I assure you that I am not criticizing immigrants seeking a better life. I am criticizing the people in the educational system who remain content with mediocre methodology for teaching language. There have been fabulous advances in the technology of learning driven by credible research. To me, it is simply unacceptable to use old tools to teach and assess language acquisition simply because it is how it has always been done in the past.

Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti

Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti

There are new ideas we should try that will not only speed the acquisition of languages, but also increase retention. Tim Ferriss tells the story of Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti who mastered 29 languages and was reported to be conversational in an additional eight by using translations of the Lord’s Prayer. Tim’s approach uses 13 basic sentences that he asserts contain all the components necessary for proficiency in any language.

It is time to step up our game. Cardinal Mezzofanti died in 1849, yet we have been reticent to embrace his style of language learning. The reason my grandfather came to America was to have a better life; that dream still drives millions a year to come to the United States. It is time to help them realize their their American Dream.

What are your thoughts regarding this topic? Have you found a viable solution? Are you as frustrated as I am? Share below or online and let’s start a dialog.

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