ISEE Upper Level Reading : Analyzing Passage Logic, Genre, and Organization in Contemporary Life Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Upper Level Reading

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Example Question #162 : Hspt Reading

"American Students and Foreign Languages" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

American students often find it difficult to understand the need for learning a foreign language. In part, this lack of understanding seems to occur because of the insulated nature of American geography. Unlike Europe, America is a massive country, comprised of states that all speak the same language. When an American travels from state to state, he or she is not confronted with a completely different language group as is the case when, for example, a Frenchman travels from his native land to the neighboring country of Italy or to England. Although America does have Canada to its north and Mexico to its south, it still does not have the great internal variety of languages as one finds in the small European continent. Therefore, students often do not experience the practical importance of knowing other languages.

Of course, America has always been called the “melting pot,” for many peoples have arrived on its shores, bringing their own distinctive cultures and languages with them. Still, this very expression—“melting pot”—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages. With time, these varied cultures become part of the American culture as a whole. While they do influence and change the culture, they likewise become assimilated into it. Their spoken language often becomes English. Even if they retain their mother tongue, they generally speak it privately. This is done as a matter of personal heritage, not as part of the day-to-day life in the culture. 

Additionally, America’s global dominance likewise allows Americans to avoid learning other languages. Since America has such influence over the rest of the world, it is generally in the interests of other peoples to learn English in order to be part of the economic, political, and military world in which America operates. Therefore, even at international meetings that are filled with people from many nationalities and language groups, English-speakers are at an advantage because they can talk with the many individuals who speak English. The work and learning of other peoples thus allows the Americans to convince themselves that there is no need to learn another language. 

Lastly, American education has come to emphasize mathematics and science to such a great degree that things such as language can often seem unimportant. The main goals of education are said to be the training of students for the technology workforce. If this is presented as the main goal of school, few children will understand why any of the non-scientific subjects are included in the curriculum. If a subject does not help in learning math and science, it will appear to be irrelevant. In particular, foreign languages do not seem to add to the teaching of math and science, which can be done very easily and effectively in English alone. 

Of course, many other reasons could be considered, and a more detailed discussion would undertake such a lengthy investigation. Still, the factors discussed above do provide some sense as to why American students find it difficult to understand the importance of learning a foreign language.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To show that the "melting pot" experience is extremely important to the linguistic formation of American English

To qualify the strong statements of the first paragraph by using the example of the "melting pot" analogy to show that Americans do indeed have an appreciation of other cultures and languages

To show that immigrant populations have often come to America, bringing with them cultures and languages that they retain

To show that even though it is a "melting pot" made up of different immigrant cultures, America is able to maintain the state of having a single spoken language

To provide a cultural history of American immigration and its effects on language and civic awareness

Correct answer:

To show that even though it is a "melting pot" made up of different immigrant cultures, America is able to maintain the state of having a single spoken language


The key sentence here is, "Still, this very expression—'melting pot'—shows that these immigrant cultures do not forever retain their own particular manners and languages." This sentence represents a reversal of the first sentence, which might lead you to think that the second paragraph is going to qualify the things that were said before this. While it does indeed concede that America is a "melting pot," the paragraph goes on to argue that the "melting" that occurs—that is, the assimilation that occurs—leads people to abandon their distinctive language groups, at least in their public activities.

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