The Case Against Mandatory Foreign Language Instruction

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There are a variety of reasons why foreign language instruction should not be required at the high school or collegiate level. Learning a foreign language, while an extremely valuable skill, is simply not possible for a majority of students in a classroom environment, particularly at the high school level. To truly acquire the skill level necessary to speak fluently in a language complete immersion is often required, which means that mandatory classroom foreign language studies often prove woefully inadequate in terms of truly imparting knowledge to the student body. It is, therefore, a waste of time and resources to require students to take foreign language classes when the lasting results often prove to be minimal to such a great degree. This paper will illustrate why foreign language instruction is simply doomed to be unsuccessful for the majority of students, and why this indicates that the energy of students and teachers could be better spent on other endeavors.

A simple look at the statistics surrounding foreign languages in the United States reveals the abject failure of mandatory foreign language instruction. According to Chris McComb, “about one-fourth of the country can speak a language other than English well enough to hold a conversation,” despite the fact that, as David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler state, “the percentage of high schools offering some foreign language courses remained...91 percent.” It is evident that widespread foreign language instruction at the high school level has not led to a significant degree of bilingualism within American society. If foreign language instruction at the high school level was an efficient use of resources, given the widespread availability of these classes, a much higher proportion of the population would likely be bilingual. This is echoed by many leaders and advanced thinkers on the subject.

The idea that foreign languages are largely a waste of precious time and resources is echoed by many experts in the field. As Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews states, “There is little evidence that many students achieve much fluency in high school.” Quite simply, if this is the case it seems that foreign language instruction is largely a waste of extremely limited resources and that as a result it should be relegated to status as an elective, where it would consume far less money from the school’s budget. This is a trend that has begun to occur at institutions of higher education across the country.

Even at the college level, many institutions have begun to embrace the idea that foreign language instruction is largely a misapplication of resources. As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan states, “many colleges and universities are starting to scale back language programs or eliminate them altogether.” This widespread trend indicates that many top educators across the nation have come to view foreign language instruction as a largely futile exercise not worthy of continuing investment. The fact of the matter is that in all too many cases the results are not commensurate with the number of resources invested.

The low number of bilingual citizens of the United States compared to the nearly universal availability of high school language classes indicates that these foreign language lessons are often insufficient to impart meaningful language skills. This assertion is echoed by many experts in the field. In addition, many colleges are beginning to cut language programs as they come to realize the futility of such programs for such a high number of students. While classes such as Spanish, French and Latin language should remain available to those willing to devote a substantial amount of time to their study and practice, the inherent difficulties in learning a foreign language make mandatory instruction a misappropriation of resources doomed to receive consistently poor results.

Works Cited

Duncan, Arne. "Education and the Language Gap: Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at the Foreign Language Summit." U.S. Department of Education. N.p., 8 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/education-and-language-gap-secretary-arne-duncans-remarks-foreign-language-summit.

Mathews, Jay. "Why Waste Time on a Foreign Language?." The Washington Post. N.p., 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/04/why_waste_time_on_a_foreign_la.html

McComb, Chris. "About One in Four Americans Can Hold a Conversation in a Second Language." Gallup News Service. N.p., 6 Apr. 2001. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1825/about-one-four-americans-can-hold-conversation-second-language.aspx.

Skorton, David, and Glenn Altschuler. "America's Foreign Language Deficit."Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/collegeprose/2012/08/27/americas-foreign-language-deficit/.