Monday, June 13, 2011

Should Your Middle Schooler Be Studying a Foreign Language?

Last week, I posted about a FREE online Spanish curriculum available to middle school foreign language teachers.  But that raises the question--should your middle schooler be taking Spanish, or some other foreign language?

If your child is planning to go to college, then some years of a foreign language study are usually a requirement for most colleges beyond the community college level.  But should that study take place in middle schools?  Middle schools seem to fall into that gap between (a) the young elastic brain that is supposed to be able to pick up different languages naturally (usually maxing out somewhere between 6 and 8 years old) and (b) the high school transcript, where colleges look for evidence of foreign language study.

There is another issue about learning languages in middle schools, at least if your child is attending public school.  From the latest figures I could find (from a not-very-extensive data search), the primary languages taught in American schools continue to be Spanish and French.  Many students, parents, and educators, however, press for other languages in the forefront of international relations, such as Chinese (generally Mandarin), Arabic, Japanese, or Russian.  If you and/or your students are interested in such languages, in most cases they may have to wait until high school for any hope of such languages being offered in school.

On the other hand, foreign language educators argue that language mastery is a function of longevity (which, frankly, I think is the case for almost any subject, but I can particularly see the need for that in terms of speaking a language).

Here is an interesting article I found in the Washington Post about this issue:
The Foreign Language Dilemma:  Si or Oui?

And here, not related particularly to middle schools but to the topic in general, is NC State's reasons why it is still valuable to take French.

What is the decision in your house?  Are your middle schoolers taking language classes?  Add your opinions or experiences in the comments below.


  1. Here are our experiences with English and French... I studied English on and off since I was 3, and Dmitri took French in school and college. So, by the time we decided to go to the US, he had 10 years of French and I some 15 of English. In two years after that decision, both of us successfully passed entry tests for US graduate schools, which included TOEFL and GRE, with my scores slightly higher. After two years in the US, our differences became negligible, and French was more or less gone for Dmitri. So, I am not sure about longevity and classes, as such.

  2. Well, I think the connection between having to use a language in an applied way, such as living in a country speaking that language, is a much stronger predictor of language learning than years in an academic classroom, but not applied learning.