Should Foreign Languages be Mandatory?

Foreign language classes are a staple of high school, with many students in CHS learning Spanish, French, or German. Often, students take these classes because they are required to per A-G requirements, which are the prerequisite classes to be eligible for admission to UC and CSU colleges. These requirements dictate a minimum of two years spent learning a foreign language, but three years are recommended. Furthermore, a good deal of colleges besides the UCs and CSUs take into account foreign language classes during admissions. This forces students to learn a language that they are not interested in, just to get into colleges. The mandatory classes are problematic for many reasons, primarily that students will not actually learn the foreign language and the language classes are arguably less useful than other subjects.

Statistically, high school classes in the US do not do a good job of teaching foreign languages. Today, less than one percent of American adults are proficient in a foreign language that they had learned in a US class as cited by the Atlantic. Additionally, according to the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS), only 15% of high school students are advanced enough in a foreign language to converse on everyday topics easily, even after four years of classes. Proponents of learning foreign languages point to the employment benefits of knowing multiple languages, but most high school students will never reach the level required to use their foreign language in a professional setting. Students in other countries are required to study English because of the opportunities it opens. Learning English opens many new job possibilities, both at home and abroad, and the chance to appreciate culture in different places all over the world. An American student gets no similar reward from learning French or German. With this in mind, the potential benefits from taking foreign language classes in the US are slim.

This also means language classes take up a slot that could be used for other subjects. The high school curriculum is strict, and students don’t have that many chances for taking classes they want. Furthermore, there are other classes that are arguably more useful than foreign language classes. For example, pursuing AP science classes such as biology and physics gives college credit, plenty of new material to learn, and opens up many possible areas of study that could be useful in college. Another class is Computer Science. Programming teaches students about computers, which only grow more and more important, while having a plethora of job opportunities.

To summarize, foreign language classes should not be a requirement. Students rarely achieve proficiency even after several years of study, and the benefits of learning a foreign language in the US are limited. If taking a foreign language was not required, students would be able to pursue classes they want. Many other classes exist that are more useful to the enterprising student, such as the AP sciences or Computer Science. Nevertheless, colleges continue to have foreign language study as a requirement, limiting students who do not want to take them. It is time to consider a change to this policy.