Lashing Back: The Case for Keeping Foreign Languages in Schools

Everywhere you look, schools are making cuts in their educational programs, and often foreign language classes are the first to go.

Foreign language classes are viewed as less important than traditionally lucrative fields such as science and technology, and it is argued that, as language programs in American schools are generally incompetent, it’s a much better use of time and resources to axe them completely.  Proponents of this argue that students motivated to learn a foreign language are much better off pursuing it as an extracurricular activity, freeing up time for learning other subjects during school hours.

Not only is this line of thinking misguided, but it’s dangerous as well.  It teaches students that foreign languages are unimportant, resulting in a generation of linguistically arrogant Americans entering the workforce with a disadvantage in communicating internationally.  Not only does that handicap us in the business realm, but as the United States welcomes more immigrants, bilingualism has become a crucial skill at home as well.

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In Texas, where 15-30% of students are currently learning English as a second language, the value of knowing multiple languages is finally being recognized.  Not only are educators fighting to keep their language classes, but a bill is currently being proposed to increase funding from 10% to 25% for foreign language programs.  Many parents, especially in areas close to the Mexican border, understand firsthand what it’s like to struggle with a language barrier and are supportive of keeping languages in the schools.  And in light of their own experiences, they understand that bilingualism brings with it more job opportunities, higher salaries, and increased capabilities in both travel and social interactions.

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However, in order for bills such as the one in Texas to pass, first the American school system must have a complete overhaul of the way they view languages.  In Hispanic communities, Spanish is enjoying a new age of appreciation by the current generation of educators.  Instead of being repressed as it was 50 years ago for immigrant children—many Hispanic teachers and members of school boards remember being punished for speaking their native language instead of English in school—Spanish is celebrated in schools, with Spanish language festivals and spelling bees now common occurrences in states bordering Mexico.  Language programs are evolving towards a truly bilingual curriculum, in which Hispanic students are provided with English lessons if they need them, with students’ performances being measured by their achievements in their strongest language.  Similarly, English-speaking students are encouraged to pursue their Spanish skills up to a mastery level for the inherent value of knowing the language rather than meeting a core requirement.

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While this all-inclusive approach to language learning in schools is still very much in its experimental stage, feedback from both parents and students has been widely positive.  Not only are Hispanic students allowed to preserve and be proud of their heritage, but English-speaking students are given an advantage in the long run as well. So you want to be bilingual? Check out tailor-made course packages in your area. Send Language Trainers a quick inquiry for more info.

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