Why Bother?: Foreign Language Classes

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你好。こんにちは。¡Hola! Bonjour.

With two years required of the same foreign language to graduate from high school in California, how much of the language do these students actually retain as they move on to bigger things like college and a full-time job? Such a requirement seems unnecessary as most kids seem to ditch their foreign language as soon their quota is fulfilled. Personally, I do not believe students should have to take a foreign language in order receive their high school diplomas.

First off, I do understand why taking a foreign language is important in this day and age. In fact, there are hardly ever any disadvantages to learning a new language. One can gain deeper insight into a certain culture and communicate with a wider group of people. More importantly, as the economy is increasingly globalized, being a polyglot is definitely advantageous for corporate success. These students that were dedicated to becoming fluent in their foreign language will be at an advantage as it becomes easier to build relationships and increase financial success. Being bilingual can certainly increase pay by ten to fifteen percent for those entering the workforce in 2014. However, many high school students do not strive to become fluent with their given opportunity.

Unlike Europe, the United States is largely lagging behind in biliteracy, as “only about 15-20 percent of Americans consider themselves bilingual, compared to 56 percent of Europeans surveyed in 2006 by the European Commission” . Being in a country that is so monolingual, Nicholas Kristof sums up the situation best with his joke: “If someone who speaks three languages is trilingual, and a person who speaks languages is quadrilingual, what is a person called who speaks no foreign language at all? Answer: An American.” Despite having many states requiring high school students to take a foreign language to graduate, there is a chance that these students are not really taking in what they are learning. Since the classes are required, they could simply be taking the class for a grade; not to understand the culture or be able to communicate with others with their chosen language.

I’m not asking foreign language classes to be removed completely from the school system. I just think that the classes should be reserved for those that are actually interested in culture and want to learn a language. Being in Japanese class for three years now, and planning to continue on for four, I can say that this class has never been a waste of time for me as I find the language fascinating. On the other hand, a handful of my classmates are desperately struggling to pass and be able to finally complete their requirements (I have seen countless re-taking of Japanese class at all levels…). These classmates of mine could be taking other courses that they are motivated in, leading to better grades and strengthening of their talents that they might use in their future. Sadly, the high school system does not allow this until they have two years of a language in. In the end, they’ll just do what they have to do to get a good grade. What’s left is not full understanding of language and culture, but blurry memorization of a few basic conversational skills.

Moreover, there could even be students that want to learn a certain foreign language, but that specific course is not available in their high school. Most schools have Spanish, but what about Korean or Italian? Students should not have to go through at least two years of a language they are not interested in just at all to move on with their lives. Lesser common languages can be studied in college or separate classes from the high school, but this results in a waste of time. Most of what would be learned in the typical high school foreign language class would be tossed out the window to take in a new language that has more appeal. There is also a sense of superiority that Americans may feel; myself included. “Because much of the world is striving to learn English, Americans wonder why they should bother to learn other languages.” With the seemingly universality of the English language, motivation to learn any other languages continue to plummet.

With possible lack of motivation in students, lack of certain languages, and wasting of valuable time, there is not much glamorous about taking a second language as a requirement to graduate from high school. Foreign language classes should be a fun opportunity for students, not a boring course that is enforced.

With that, 再見, さようなら, Adiós, and Au revoir!

*This was my argumentative essay for my English class but since I really do feel strongly about this, I decided to share. It’s supposed to mimic opinion articles like those in the newspapers but I’m not sure I did I really good job of that haha.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Why Bother?: Foreign Language Classes

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