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“Why waste time on a foreign language?”

Written By: daveski on April 26, 2010 3 Comments

In his column in the Washington Post, “Why waste time on a foreign language?” Jay Mathews argues that much foreign language education in high school is a waste of time–this after mentioning that two of his own children “were serious Spanish students…and today, as adults, use the language at their work.”

Responses, anyone?

Re-posted from the Berkeley Language Center and the National Language Service Corps on Twitter

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3 Responses to ““Why waste time on a foreign language?””

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 26 April 2010 at 11:42 pm

    I read the article as critiquing the state of SL/FL learning in high schools, where students come out with deceptively high grades (which may or may not indicate real proficiency) and not ever really meaning to go anywhere. What he’s writing comes from a place of frustration, and I see his point…so many of us have taken languages in high school that we can barely remember and can rarely produce at will…the “waste”, I think he’s arguing, is in the *way* things are taught, not that learning foreign languages is a waste of time…that part, I feel, was heavily sarcastic…no?

  2. rephira on: 27 April 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I agree with Usree on how the writer is viewing Foreign Language classes in High School. I learned German when I was in High School in Korea (provided that I was going to a school that had the title of “Foreign Language High School”) but as of now I remember very little German from the very little German that I learned back then.

    Learning language without the love for that language is a very hard and seemingly inefficient process. I think High School Foreign Language Education lacks the ability to pull the students into not just learning the language, but actually having love towards what they are learning. Well, I guess this principle applies not just to language, but anything that could be dubbed ‘learning’ in life.

  3. Mary on: 27 April 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I didn’t gain much language proficiency in my high school classes, true, but those classes allowed me to explore my interest in language and other cultures. I spent a year abroad in high school (and returned more proficient than the German teacher) but I took a year of French as a senior with no plans to study it further. I just enjoyed the classes and I think my classmates who didn’t go on to study or work with languages also benefited greatly.

    I work in translation and it’s interesting to me when my customers have difficulty understanding why concatenation can cause problems in translation – they don’t understand that other languages have a different structure than English (never mind time and date format, etc.) Even having a limited knowledge of one second language opens your mind to so much about other cultures, I think language instruction is invaluable.

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