K-12 and the Language Problem

The Center for Applied Linguistics did a national study about foreign language instruction in U.S. schools during 2007-2008 [Nancy C. Rhodes and Ingrid Pufahl, Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools Results of a National Survey].  Among the things that it found were:

1. between 1997 and 2008 foreign language instruction actually declined substantially in elementary and middle school but remained fairly stable in high school.

2. the teaching of French, German, Japanese and Russian decreased at both elementary and secondary levels while Chinese and Arabic language instruction increased.

3. there was a shortage of language teachers.

The report concluded: “Unfortunately, the overall picture of foreign
language instruction in 2008 was no better—and in some areas worse—than in 1997. There continues to be reason for serious concern about the limited number of long‐sequence K–12 language programs designed to provide students with the linguistic and cultural skills needed to communicate effectively in the United States and abroad. In addition, the gap has widened between the haves and the have‐nots. A large number of elementary and middle school students in this country, especially those in rural or low SES schools, do not have the opportunity to study foreign language at all. It is time for all Americans to recognize the vital importance of an American citizenry that can communicate effectively in many languages and across cultures, and for schools to make the teaching and learning of foreign languages a priority in the K–12 curriculum. When legislators, administrators, and other education policy makers recognize the need to incorporate foreign languages into the core curriculum, the necessary funding and other resources will follow. This change in attitude is the necessary first step in moving our country toward parity with nations around the globe that graduate students who can communicate in more than one language.”

Is it right that we forget about teaching languages like German, French, and Japanese in public schools?  What can be done to stop this decline? Should we have more summer camps/programs that can teach kids a fun way to learn languages in general?


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