Sunday, September 14, 2008

Teaching (One) Foreign Language

September 14, 2008, 9:30 a.m.

Pick a Language, Any Language

The Register editorializes this morning that we should have more foreign language instruction in Iowa's schools. Editorial, "Encourage Learning Foreign Languages," Des Moines Register, September 14, 2008, p. OP1 ("Marcia Harmon Rosenbusch, director of the National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center at Iowa State University in Ames, said all children should have the opportunity to study foreign languages in elementary school. Many European Union youngsters learn a second language starting in preschool. 'I think high school is really late,' she said. It's also out of sync with President Bush's 2006 National Security Language Initiative, which calls for better developing foreign-language skills. . . . That's why Iowa school districts should look for more creative solutions, with help from the state. The status quo is falling short.").

Here's my response -- too long for the Register's limitation on the number of characters it permits in comments about its stories:

Great Idea -- But Let's Pick One

As someone who has used foreign languages during considerable international travel, I couldn't agree more with the desirability of Iowa's schools requiring, or at least offering, foreign languages.

But given the small number of our high school students who are truly fluent in reading, writing and speaking a foreign language when they graduate we might want to consider some alternative approaches.

Here's one.

1. Pick one foreign language. When I was in school it was French, then the international language. Today the international language is English -- and a second, rapidly gaining, U.S. language is Spanish. But whatever the choice, just pick one.

2. Start teaching it in kindergarten and continue every year until high school graduation -- and students' mastery.

3. Forget the cafeteria choice of foreign languages. Concentrate resources and teachers on one. But when parents or students want to, make it possible for K-12 students to get credit for studying additional languages from universities and community colleges, private companies and tutors, or study abroad programs.

It's one more example of how, when we put our minds to it, we can get a greater return on less investment in our schools. Every high school graduate would be truly fluent in at least one foreign language (something they, and we, can't claim now) -- and at far less public expense than what our present K-12 foreign language programs costs.

And no one who wanted to do so would be deprived of the opportunity to earn credit for learning additional languages.

Just an idea.
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Anonymous said...

As far as learning another language, including English, is concerned, can I put in a word for Esperanto?

I know that Esperanto is a living language, but it has great propaedeutic values as well.

Confirmation can be seen at

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