A student’s story
Foreign language requirements
By SAM R. THOMPSON
Special to the Sun-Gazette
In the modern age, students are not just expected to get good grades. Now, in order to be considered competitive for college, our youth must receive high marks in class, score well on standardized tests, participate in athletic or artistic events, work part time and take part in school related extracurricular activities. Then, on top all of this, colleges are putting foreign language requirements on their acceptances. In fact, some local colleges such as Bloomsburg University, Lock Haven University and Penn State University require or encourage at least two years of foreign language classes according to their admission sites. So why the sudden increase in demand of second language skills?
The United States always has been a country of different cultures, varying beliefs and several languages, but now, the increase in the number of non-English speakers is notably higher. The second most spoken language in the United States is Spanish and it has been rising rapidly. According to the American Community Survey, a project managed and directed by the United States Census, in 1980, there were roughly 11 million Spanish speakers in the United States. As of 2015, this number has nearly quadrupled to approximately 41 million, comprising 14 percent of the American population. By 2050, the Census predicts that the Hispanic population will rise to 106 million, more than double of what it is now. Foreign language is on the rise in our country therefore, the education of our youth must follow.
Teaching foreign languages varies between schools just like any other subject, but there is one aspect which greatly differs between programs: when the classes begin. For example, some schools such as the rapidly developing Spanish immersion schools in California start as early as kindergarten. Other schools, such as our very own Hughesville High School, don’t open the door to foreign language classes until ninth grade. To put this in perspective, students who aspire to take College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) tests in subjects such as AP Calculus or AP English have received formal schooling on the basics of those subjects since their earliest days in elementary school. In comparison, students who wish to take the AP Spanish exam only have four years to learn the rules, functions and vocabulary of the entire Spanish Language. To help others gain insight on how this impacts students, a few students from the AP Spanish Club at Hughesville have commented on this topic.
“Only having four years affects how I will do on the AP Spanish test. Other students have more learning material and a longer study time to prepare for the test,” said Madison Bower, a senior at Hughesville.
“Our Spanish teacher is so amazing but because we don’t have as much time as other students, we are at a disadvantage compared to most students who have at least five years,” said Shayna Ragan, other senior in the AP Spanish Club.
The benefits of speaking a foreign language are numerous and may become even more important as the number of non-English speakers increases within the United States. If our youth are going to live in a future where half the population doesn’t speak English, then how early should we start introducing students to foreign languages? For now, students at Hughesville will continue to only have four years of formal schooling in their languages.
Thompson is a senior at Hughesville High School. Her column is published on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in the Education section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.