For many students, studying a foreign language in high school may seem like a waste of time. English is the second language of more and more people in our increasingly globalized world and technology has made translation easier than ever. Still, while interest and investment in foreign language education may be declining in the United States, many view multilingualism as both advantageous and necessary. Ultimately, the reasons to study a foreign language in high school outweigh any reasons to opt out.
According to a recent Pew study, only 20 percent of K-12 students study a foreign language. That number is so low because few states require students complete foreign language courses in order to graduate. Currently, only 10 states and the District of Columbia require foreign language credits for graduation. Foreign language requirements are determined by standards set by each state. States that require students learn a foreign language often do so in order to prepare students to match local public university requirements.
Since most colleges and universities prefer depth over diversity when it comes to their foreign language requirements, it is highly recommended that students take at least two years of the same language. It is better to be proficient in one foreign language than it is to take several introductory courses in multiple languages. In fact, the most competitive colleges and universities prefer four years of a foreign language. Some colleges will also consider other measures besides foreign language credits as evidence of proficiency, such as the SAT II or AP exam.
The benefits of studying a foreign language go beyond meeting college admission requirements. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, research indicates learning a foreign language supports academic achievement, provides cognitive benefits to students, and positively affects students' attitudes and beliefs about language learning and about other cultures.
Proficiency in at least one foreign language is also seen as a vital skill in our increasingly multilingual world. A second language not only facilitates communication and cultural understanding, but it also enhances career mobility and improves chances for promotion. Bénédicte de Montlaur, the cultural counselor of the French Embassy in the United States, argues, “The necessity of foreign-language education could not be clearer right now. The future in America, and everywhere, is multilingual. And so is the present.”
In addition to practical and professional benefits, learning a foreign language is a great way for students to discover new passions. For example, students who study a foreign language have access to enriching study abroad experiences that can be life-changing. Students who struggle in other subjects may find they have a talent for languages, which can be nurtured to build confidence and expand their future opportunities.
Once you have decided to give learning a foreign language a chance, how do you choose a language to study? Most colleges only care about proficiency, so it doesn’t really matter if you study Spanish or Japanese. However, one factor that could tip the scale toward a specific language is if you already have a future career in mind.
If you are interested in business, for example, you may want to choose German or Chinese. Considering becoming an archaeologist who studies ancient civilizations? Give Latin a chance. More and more colleges and universities are accepting American Sign Language as a foreign language, so it’s a great option if you want to work with people with disabilities. The only thing that can limit you are the courses available to you.
If the perfect foreign language course for you isn’t offered at your high school, there are other options to consider: taking language classes at a local community college, taking online language classes, and self-studying to take an AP language exam using study guides and other programs (e.g. Rosetta Stone, Rocket Languages, and AP study guides).
The bottom line: choose the language that interests you!
A New Perspective
Approaching studying a foreign language as an irrelevant obligation could foreclose the potential students have to take advantage of the myriad benefits of multilingualism. If you have the opportunity to take two or more years of a foreign language in high school, give it a try. Many competitive colleges view foreign language proficiency as proof of students’ motivation and desire to seek out challenges, and the benefits of a second language range from the professional to the personal.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware can be reached at 215-886-9188.