The Role Of Language Learning In Global Citizenship Education

Being a global citizen doesn’t just mean traveling around.
Global citizenship represented by a busy intersection filled with pedestrians and cars in a major Asian city at night.

What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? It can sound a little trite. In a certain sense, we’re all citizens of the world from birth. Global citizenship as a concept, however, is a guiding ethos for thinking about the world. While it might sound like a “global citizen” is just someone who likes to travel. In particular, global citizenship education is a framework used by various groups. The main idea is that we live in a globalized society, and so our learning should not center any one place or issue. Instead, it should look at how everything interacts with and affects each other. 

As you might guess, language learning can be an important part of global citizenship education. The connection between the two isn’t necessarily clear-cut, however. Here, we’ll dive into what global citizenship education really is, and how multilingualism plays a role.

What Is Global Citizenship Education?

While there are various forms of global citizenship education, one of the more popular frameworks is put together by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The main idea is adjusting curricula in schools to focus on the linked social, political, environmental and economic issues that stretch across borders. 

The idea for GCE isn’t to entirely rewrite what people are learning. Instead, it takes existing topics — geography, science, history, literature — and infuses a different approach. Science classes, for example, might infuse more information about climate change and how the warming planet is affecting ecosystems. Social science courses may have a greater focus on human rights. The idea isn’t to prescribe the facts and figures a person should learn, but to instead show how the things they’re already learning are more connected than a person might initially think.

The other aspect of global citizenship, which starts at the education level, is that it encourages people to contribute to their communities and the world. It’s not enough to learn how carbon dioxide contributes to global warming; GCE wants people to take the next step and spring into action. This could be reducing personal carbon footprint, protesting for a cause or lobbying the government to make systemic changes that are good for the environment. 

To be a global citizen, then, isn’t just about acknowledging how we humans are all tied together. You also should use your time and resources to give back, making the world a better place.

How Language Learning Can Make You A Better Global Citizen

Being multilingual isn’t necessarily a requirement for being a global citizen. The barrier to entry isn’t how many places you’ve visited or how worldly you are, it’s just that you need to have an interest in the wider world. That said, language learning and global citizenship go hand-in-hand in many ways.

For one, knowing another language expands your understanding of the world. One of the most commonly cited reasons for learning a language is that it gives an insight into other cultures you can’t get from just your mother tongue. It also allows you to communicate with whole new communities of people.

This second benefit ties into the other way language learning makes sense for a devoted global citizen: it’s a useful skill for giving back to the global community. If you’re contributing to large networks of people, you’re bound to run into a multiplicity of languages, and being able to speak more than one will be a great help. 

You may be left with a question: Which language should I learn? There’s no answer here that works for everyone. If you already know how you’d like to get involved, you can use that to guide your decision. For example, if you’re looking to volunteer in your community, you can choose one that’s spoken nearby. For those looking for more of a challenge, you might want to look into a minority language that is in need of more translators and interpreters. You’ll never be able to learn all the languages that are out there, but starting with just one is an excellent way to connect with the world around you.

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