Practicality of foreign languages

When I walk into language class, I greet my teacher with a greeting and a hearty handshake. It’s a routine now, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s actually teaching me how to greet someone or if I’m just going through the motions. Currently, students are required to take two years of either fine arts or foreign language, but as a requirement for UC schools, many feel obligated to take at least three years of the latter. Though there are clear benefits to learning a second language, the students at Walnut tend to go through the motions and, most likely will never use that language outside of the classroom.

Do foreign language classes simply teach students different languages or do they serve a greater purpose? Could the class spot be used to take a different class that is more intriguing or relevant to a future career path? Many say yes, but ACT studies show that taking foreign language classes increases linguistic awareness and leads to higher academic achievements on standardized testing.

The benefits of learning foreign languages have been evident for quite some time. Reading different languages challenges one to recognize completely different words and meanings, which also raises cultural awareness. In addition, being bilingual can also make one more marketable when searching for jobs, as it enables individuals to communicate with more people.

Currently, the way foreign languages are taught in school does not set one up to learn a language practically, which does not translate well into the real world. From the start, students are encouraged to memorize vocabulary and phrases; emphasis on vocabulary and grammar, however, leaves little time for verbal practice. I, and presumably many others struggle when the language becomes more complex than just basic greetings. We are taught to memorize sentences rather than understanding the process behind them. The low amount of verbal practice is what prevents students from truly understanding a foreign language, leading some to complain that four years of a foreign language teaches nothing applicable to the real world.

If we are to address the problem of students just going through the motions of foreign language classes, we should first look at the classes themselves. Foreign language classes could be improved greatly with a different approach in teaching that does not focus so much on vocabulary and basic sentence structure. It is clear that foreign languages are here to stay, but students and teachers should consider more organic and applicable methods of learning.

By Jamie Chen, Photographer

Editorial Cartoon by Erica Chang

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