Becoming a global citizen without foreign language education?

A micro-level study about the foreign language skills of Hamline CLA students in comparison to the Hamline Plan

Term Paper, 2009

33 Pages, Grade: 1


List of contents


Topic Statement
Literature Review
Research questions and tentative thesis
Research methods

The Hamline Plan
The results of the interviews
- The profile of the students interviewed
- What makes a person a global citizen?
- The education to become a global citizen
- The students’ opinion: Does school educate them to global citizens?
- The number of languages an average Hamline student speaks
- The languages an average Hamline student speaks
- The evaluation of the students’ language skills
- Hamline students’ study abroad plans and preferences
- Summary of the main findings

Introducing a language requirement.
Majors with focus on making global citizens - A future model?
Introduction of global culture classes
Study constraints
Further exploration

REFERENCES including web references

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889-1951)


Do Hamline students get an education to become global citizens?

According to its mission statement in the Hamline Plan, the College of Liberal Arts at Hamline University (Saint Paul, MN) is dedicated to preparing its students to “compassionate citizens of the world by helping them maximize their intellectual, creative, and leadership potential.” The main research question of this paper investigates if the school realizes its goal by analyzing the second language skills Hamline students can gain or are supposed to gain to become a global citizen. Globalization and the “shrinking of the world” lead to the necessity to speak foreign languages since the peoples come closer. Even with the global dominance of English, a global citizen needs to be prepared to face language barriers gaining more knowledge than just knowing the English language. Second language is considered a window for citizens to learn about the outside world and is hence a window to see different cultures.

This micro-level study explores the exposure of students in private liberal arts colleges in the Midwest in the U.S. utilizing Hamline University as an example. The students of the Certificate in International Journalism and Global Studies majors are the only students required to study abroad to strengthen their second language skills. However, they are a small group of students at Hamline University which probably achieve the goal to become “a citizen of the world” because they acquire the skills to communicate in a foreign culture and make connections in the world. Based on surveys about the language skills of Hamline CLA students at Hamline University combined with the content of the mission, I argue that Hamline University does not prepare adequately its students to become global citizens because they do not require them to advance their language skills, which ultimately leads to a lack of ability to communicate in the world.


Topic Statement

My research paper started with a quote from the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein who said “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” ( Wittgenstein argued that people can only name and understand things they also have words for. The ability of talk with words and understand the meaning of things using words determine how much a human being understands its environment. Adapting this quote to my study, it has an essential meaning: Words and language define our room for maneuver to communicate with others and hence our ability to communicate in the world and to understand our environment. Regarding that, knowing foreign languages advances the ability to be connected with people all over the world due to communication. My research paper deals with students’ ability to communicate in the world and the possibility to become a global citizen which I analyzed measuring their second language skills and collecting their ideas about global citizenship and college education at Hamline University.

As a foreign student in the United States of America I got the idea for analyzing the situation about foreign languages and the opinion about it because of many conversations I had with American students. Talking about languages with them I heard that most of them “only” speak English, sometimes a little Spanish, French or German and I had the sensation that they regret the situation about their knowledge gap concerning second language education. Focusing on Hamline University I found out about the Hamline Plan, the school’s educational mission, whose goal is to educate the students to global citizens. I was wondering at that point how students are supposed to become global citizens, in other words citizens of the world, with a grounded second language education. Even though English is present in many countries on the globe, there are so many other foreign languages people communicate with. Regarding the number of native speakers of the world languages, English (328 million native speakers) is number three after Chinese with around 845 million native speakers and Spanish with approximately 329 million speakers. Other very important languages such as Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, French, German, Dutch, and Afrikaans unify 728 million people in the world (statistics retrieved from Wikipedia). So how want Hamline students communicate with this large population in the world, in other words the rest of the world, and hence become global citizens if they only speak English?

Also the following questions shall be answered by the research: Which languages do Hamline students know and how do they evaluate their skills? How about the educational system at Hamline University, so to say the Hamline Plan and the possibility to acquire foreign language skills?

This topic has a high proximity not only for Hamline students but also for Hamline teachers and the administration. Language skills serve as a basis for the chances a person has on the national and international job market, a company to expand in the world to increase the profits and to simply make connections with other people in the world. Languages bridge connections between human beings, nations and transnational companies. So, even though this study is per definition Hamline-centric, the scope can be transferred on a regional, national and even global level. Consequently, on a national level, this paper could also be addressed to government officials of the educational ministry who make the core decisions in the educational system in the U.S.

The research reveals the relationship between the education of second languages and the Hamline Plan. The key concept of the Hamline Plan is to educate the students to global citizens. My study takes a look at what means global citizenship according to the Hamline Plan, but also illustrates the students’ understanding of global citizenship.

The title of my research refers directly to a notion of global studies: Global citizenship. The notion is a composition of the words “global” and “citizenship”. The aspect of globality refers to the world, everywhere, in every place on earth. Since globalization has shrunk the world so that the distance between different parts of it becomes smaller, also different cultures with their own languages come closer together. If you refer to the term the world turning into “a single place”, a term we used in our lectures, you should stress that the communication transforms as well. People start learning languages to understand others in order to make communication possible. In the setting of this, languages are the breeding ground for global communication and globality. But what does citizenship mean in this case? It is not a citizenship that gives you certain right, official documents, etc. Citizenship means moreover to be a citizen of the world who feels at home in different places in the world and does not depend on a certain nation or fixed borders.

Another important notion in this study is the process of “Americanization” - many countries around the world have integrated American products, ideas, lifestyle and - of course- their language in their society.

English is a world language and hence one of the most spoken languages in the world and has a dominant role on the globe. The first foreign language pupils in countries all over the world learn is in general English. But there are more languages on the globe and not just anglophony. In the United States of America the primary language is English, beyond the borders of the U.S. are Mexico and Canada - the languages you are exposed to is Spanish and English once again. Integrating my personal background I want to compare this situation in North America to the European Union which consists of 27 nations and where you can identify a lot of different languages such as for example French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Danish, Greek etc. and of course English. So within this comparison monolinguism - which means one language - confronts multilinguism, in other words a variety of different languages. If you cross a border in Europe for example the primary language changes which 6 means that European citizens are “almost forced” to learn other languages. People can cross the borders easily for work or travel purposes which facilitates the flow of people and as a result of this the flow of words and languages. European education also stresses that students should study foreign languages very early starting in fifth grade and continuing the education also by adding a third or even fourth foreign language. The educational system in an European country often stresses that language education is required.

From there, with this background, I was wondering if not requiring foreign language education is indeed a reason for low language skills. The Hamline Plan does not require the study of foreign languages. And I argue that this is a reason for low skills. The students only know English. But how do they want to communicate with foreign people if they are only able to speak with inhabitants of the anglosphere? In which sense does English centrism hinder the students to become global citizens?

Literature Review

My research is a micro-level study that includes a survey with Hamline students about their understanding of global citizenship and their exposure to foreign languages. The topic is embedded in many fields since it concerns not only global studies and language studies but also political studies somehow because I touch base on educational aspects which are linked to politics.

The context of the seminar defined global studies as the starting point of my research. From this global context, I will investigate on a micro-level examining the educational aspects which certainly build the basis for the people’s exposure to languages and culture since most of the people gain their language skills in school. A very important research about this special aspect was done by David L. Sigsbee (2002) who argued that:

“Many Americans do not study foreign languages. And when they do, they frequently do it badly because of limitations in the American educational system. However, given a public willingness to improve the situation, there are proven models for successful foreign language teaching and learning that can be implemented in our schools.”

Learning languages is essential, but why should American citizens learn foreign languages? In his book “Foreign News” Anthropologist Ulf Hannerz (2004) identified

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Reference: “Americanization” as one of the main factors regarding global developments which affect almost the whole world population. Hannerz (2004) stressed that globalization led to “the spread of American popular and consumer culture” which in fact means the spread of English. And this is also the point where Melvin Bragg comes into play. Bragg (2002) said English is “the international language of business; the language the world’s citizens communicate in.”

This is a very important statement according to my research topic. American people are namely less educated in languages. With English being probably “the global language” there is apparently no need to learn other foreign languages anymore. The graph at the top of the page indicates that in many nations of the world English is an official as well as a spoken language. But even the countries not marked focus their second language education on English which makes it even more powerful.

Discussing the global flow of words and languages, my research has to focus on the linguistic aspect and the spread of languages. The latter aspect is connected to the world’s history since as languages were spread over the globe by tribes and peoples’ movements. The most important notion is the phenomenon “imperialism” which fostered the spread of some languages and allowed those languages to become world languages.

On the one hand “imperialism” is an important notion because the expansion of the British Empire led to the spread of the English language and as a consequence of this expanded the territory of the anglosphere. It was namely the British Empire that provoked the spread of the English language and hence the British culture in every part of the world such as especially India, parts of Africa and the forerunner of what we call today the United States of America.

On the other hand theorists discuss a new form of “imperialism”, the notion of “cultural imperialism”, a point when the term “Americanization” comes into play once again. Since American products, ideas and images namely invaded the rest of the world, also the American language as it were became an exported article. Within the spread of American cultural products and goods, a new form of imperialism gets support, and on an even more economic basis in contrast to the common understanding of the term “imperialism” which is linked with the image of colonialism at the end of the 19th century and its rise at the beginning of the 20th century. As a consequence of the “Americanization” the English language hence fixed its position as the dominant language in the world, in the 21st century further supported by the phenomenon “electronic imperialism” and an one-way flow if information. Touching on this phenomenon, Harmeet Sawhney (2007) points out that:

“In fact, when we look at the global communication flows, we can easily see that they are disproportionately from the United States (the center) to the rest of the world (the periphery). […] Critics have dubbed this pattern of communication one-way-flow.”

The latter explanation underlined the complexity of the topic which handles a phenomenon touching many fields of studies at the same time. To explain the spread of language, so only to explain the actual situation, you need to integrate communication history, world’s history and language science.

After integrating all these references into my research project I want to stress one argument not much mentioned in the recent publications, namely the simple fact that the U.S. is only surrounded by two nations and one foreign language. Therefore I want to stress the importance of neighbors with foreign languages integrating the example of the European Union with its exposure to many borders and hence different languages.

Robins, Rivers and Brecht (2006) stressed that “yet the language capacity of the United States remains poorly documented.” This fact underlines the necessity to examine the factors that led to the lack of foreign language skills in the American society and to investigate on the factors which could fill the knowledge gap. With their research about „correlates, trends, and possible consequences” regarding speaking foreign languages in the United States they showed the necessity to ameliorate the educational situation. Furthermore the three scholars confirmed within their research that

“Today’s headlines leave little doubt about the strategic needs of the United States for an educated citizenry aware of the role of language and culture in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The nation especially needs more professionals with greater levels of proficiency in more languages other than English (LOE).”

So the scholars stressed the importance of second language education for students to compete successfully with other competitors on the job market. Marko Modiano (2001) discussed the term of cultural imperialism in his publication “Linguistic imperialism, cultural integrity, and EIL (English as an international language)”. Modiano names the spread of English with the term “linguistic imperialism.” The scholar also explains that the cultural imposition of the English language is the factor which led to the definition of English as an international language or even global English.


Excerpt out of 33 pages


Becoming a global citizen without foreign language education?
A micro-level study about the foreign language skills of Hamline CLA students in comparison to the Hamline Plan
Senior Research Seminar
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
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USA;, Fremdsprachenausbildung;, Globalisierung;, interkulturelle Kommunikation;, Fremdsprachen;, Weltbürger;, College;, Mikrolevelstudie;, Global Studies;, Anthropologie
Quote paper
Julia Harrer (Author), 2009, Becoming a global citizen without foreign language education?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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