There are many reasons why students should be required to learn a foreign language. While many high schools do not make a foreign language requirement mandatory for graduation, many colleges require study of a foreign language as a condition of admission.
Foreign Language Requirements
Every state in the United States has different standards and requirements for graduation. Every student who passes through an American public school system must contend with the academic requirements in that state and meet them in order to graduate with a diploma. However, states vary greatly in what they consider to be a required course, and in many states, a foreign language is not among them.
Some states do believe that all students should be required to learn a foreign language. In some cases, this is done to increase students' ability to travel and communicate outside of their language and country of origin. In other cases, the requirement is put into place so that high school curriculums remain in alignment with local public university requirements.
For many students who planned their high school course selection without taking a foreign language, finding out that they are not eligible for a public university in their state is a tremendous blow. Beyond public universities, many private universities make completion of coursework in a foreign language a requirement for graduation. This is why so many people argue that students should be required to learn a second language for high school graduation.
Reasons Why Students Should Be Required to Learn a Second Language
Aside from the issue of requirements for college admission and college graduation, there are a number of other reasons why a student should be required to learn a second language. In the first place, learning a new language can help a student understand the concept of language and communication in a more sophisticated way. Acquiring skills and understanding about the way that other languages operate is an excellent way to learn more about your own native language.
Learning a foreign language is also a wonderful way for students to learn about the larger world. As the United States is geographically isolated from a lot of the rest of the world, American students are unlikely to be immersed in another language unless they live with parents who immigrated and still speak their native language at home. Studying a foreign language helps them to become familiar with other parts of the world and exposes them to a culture outside their own.
Finally, studying a foreign language can spark an interest or passion in students of which they were previously unaware. This could point them in the direction of a study abroad experience or the beginnings of a career that changes their life. Learning a new language often means learning about the political, cultural and social customs of a country or region, which is broadening on a personal level.
At What Age Should You Introduce a Second Language?
People often wonder, "When's the best time to learn a language?" Although there has been a lot of research about language acquisition, there is no single best age. Many people believe that the earlier a language is introduced the better since the child will have had early exposure to build on. However, many educators feel that the true key to learning a language is not early exposure but consistent use.
Immersion in a language either at home or at school means that the child is consistently using the language, and his breadth of knowledge and understanding of the language can regularly increase. The language also becomes a part of the fabric of the child's life, so he is able to recall words more easily.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.