The Neglect of Foreign Languages Needs to End

With the rest of the world advancing in foreign language education, it’s time we expanded from only teaching high school French and Spanish.

Anastacia Laux, A&E Editor

I have wondered why our school only offers two foreign language courses to students. There are only two options, Spanish and French, yet when we look at the previous generations of students, there seems to have been a larger variety of foreign languages offered than now. We must ask ourselves why more languages aren’t being taught at our school when our predecessors had more choices offered to them.

Since Iowa City is increasingly becoming a diverse town, it’s clear that our students could benefit from the offering of more languages. Young generations growing up in multicultural environments may have the opportunity to learn their cultural language. I understand how significant this could be because I myself would find usefulness in such an addition to our schools. Growing up surrounded by Russian-speaking family members, having Russian be taught at school would help me become more fluent in the language. Many other students in our town face similar issues, stuck in a position where learning our cultural languages can be very difficult. 

Having a wider variety of languages taught in schools would also be beneficial for every student. A larger selection of languages would expose students to cultures and cultural values from all around the world. The diversity of languages would give our community a greater sense of connectedness with the rest of the world. Imagine all the opportunities this could provide to the prosterity of Iowa City: access to a wider variety of jobs, a greater sense of global connection, and more educational and lifetime opportunities abroad.

If we compare our level of foreign language education with other parts of the world, it’s clear that many other countries are ahead at teaching languages.  For example, in many of the countries in the European Union, being able to speak more than one language is greatly prioritized. 

Luxembourg is currently one of the leading countries at being multilingual. A 2018 study by the Ministry of National Education found that 98% of the population speaks French, 80% speaks English, 78% speaks German, and surprisingly, only 77% of the population speaks Luxembourgish. The education system is primarily responsible for achieving such high multilingual percentages. During childhood, schools teach subjects through Luxembourgish, French, and German. As if that weren’t enough, English is introduced to students during secondary school, and then, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese are offered as an optional fourth language. 

Luxembourg is one of many countries which outrank the United States in foreign language education. In more than twenty European countries, learning a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory. When we compare this to our own country, where a foreign-language mandate at any level of education has yet to be implemented, the United States seems to disappoint.

Even some school districts in the United States have taken steps toward educating students earlier, including the West Liberty Community School District. Their academic curriculum involves teaching Spanish in the town’s elementary, middle, and high schools. 

If West Liberty, a small town very near ours, can manage to introduce a foreign language in elementary school, then the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) has no excuse to not implement this into our own primary schools. At the very least, a larger variety of foreign languages can be offered to students.

In 2014, the ICCSD cut out the German language program, one of the three languages offered in middle and high schools. The cut was made because there were fewer students enrolled in German than the desired range of 24-32 students per class. While there were not many students enrolled at the time, the loss of German classes impacted the students who were taking it. German students organized City High’s Save City German meetings, which spoke directly with legislatures in advocating for the return of German classes. The cut of German from our school district was a wrong solution because it reduced students’ opportunities at being exposed to other cultures and languages. Instead, there should be increased awareness on the importance and impact of languages, encouraging more students to take on foreign language courses such as German.

High-school French and Spanish may seem like enough, but there is potential for so much more in our growing town of Iowa City. Take a look at the rest of the world, and you’ll see that the education of foreign languages excels much more greatly than here. But if we, as a country and as a town, more greatly prioritize the importance of languages, we may just find ourselves more closely connected with the rest of the world.