Term Paper: Foreign Language Education in High

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[. . .] So even on a personal basis, more knowledge means more choices, and that alone would seem to be a cogent reason for foreign language study for any student, college-bound, tech-school bound, or workplace bound. It is worthwhile to note that plumbers generally earn more than elementary school teachers, and could actually better afford foreign travel if they had been enculturated to expect it and sufficiently instructed to be able to handle it linguistically and culturally. As it is, descendants of people from Italy, whether they are plumbers or CEOs, will travel there, so there is no reason not to offer the skills and knowledge to provide other possible choices for those plumbers and CEOs.

Clark offers several other reasons as well for studying a foreign language for all students. One reason is self-knowledge. Clark suggests asking a returning Peace Corps volunteer what he or she learned most from the experience and most will say something like "I discovered who I am. I learned more about myself than Africa." (Clark, 2000) He notes that "Confronting foreign cultures creates a shock of difference that puts our own culture in sharp relief. It shows us who we are by showing us who we are not, triggering an internal dialogue, a re-examination of assumptions, that seldom develops within the context of our own culture." (Clark, 2000) And he adds that there is sufficient basis to promote it in this way, even barring Peace Corps experiences as reasons. The western model of education has followed the Socratic dictum, "Know thyself," according to Clark, and, he adds, that goal might best be served "by studying cultures outside the Western tradition." (Clark, 2000)

Clark's second reason is moral redemption. He is not speaking about religion per se. Nor is he exactly speaking about the moral imperative for "modern-day secular missionaries might see this imperative as a justification for bringing economic development to the Third World." (Clark, 2000) What he is talking about is a concept based on a story told by Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a prolific author and thinker. Clark retells a story Weisel tells:

man went to the temple each day and shouted to God about the evildoers -- liars, slanderers, rapists and murderers. HE ranted for days, weeks, and months all day long. Finally, the rabbi confronted him and asked why he did this. "Has the world improved in this time?" The rabbi asked. The man said it had not. The rabbi asked him why he would continue to do it if it wasn't helping. The answer was that the man didn't rant and rave to save the world; he ranted and raved to be sure he didn't fall into the same evil ways. (Clark, 2000)

Clark's conclusion was that it our study of the ways of the world that can have a liberating effect on our own lives, helping us not to fall into the inward-looking mindset that has, arguably, fostered such events as 9/11, both by our ignorance of language and other cultures, and our inability to know our weaknesses as well as strengths because we lacked the mirror of other cultures in which our selves might have been reflected. Says Clark, "We may or may not be 'our brother's keeper,' but it will certainly be our brother who redeems us." (2000)

What about student ability and learning languages?

It would be fair to say that most Americans think learning a language is difficult. Often, only the above-average and gifted students are steered toward language study. In advocating more prevalent teaching of languages, which would imply students of many academic levels would be involved, is it setting up some groups to fail? Research by Nikolova and Taylor did find that gifted students had about a ten percent better vocabulary recall than average students, and did better on creative tasks using language. But they also found that tailoring instructional methods to the type of learner in the class was effective in narrowing the differences. (Nikolova and Taylor, 2003)

Another suggestion would be this: institute two-track language study. Just as colleges have courses meant for those majoring in a subject that are more difficult than survey courses for all students who just need to fulfill a requirement by obtaining basic knowledge, structure language courses similarly. Honors-academic students and those with an exceptional interest in and/or aptitude for foreign languages would take one level of course and be graded accordingly. Such courses could include extensive literature in the language and so on. But also set up a second level of language courses meant for all students to gain a basic understanding of the culture and basic competence in everyday speaking in the language, and grade it accordingly. Conceivably, some average students so exposed might find their niche in an aptitude for language, or interest in a particular culture. Or gifted students might take several languages, one main language and perhaps a couple of the others just for a greater grounding in the cultures and languages of the globe.

There could be other allied benefits from such programs. Maxwell and Garrett described an innovative Spanish program studied for an article and noted that "students who take a language through such programs are likely to be highly motivated and to achieve significant levels of proficiency." (2002)

The program they were describing was a relatively non-academic on in which local native speakers of various languages were tapped to teach those languages in non-credit courses in local schools. The only two problems they noted with that approach were that sometimes the native speakers had weak teaching skills, and sometimes the students were not able to remain motivated long enough to become proficient. (Maxwell and Garrett, 2002) Those drawbacks are removed if the language study is part of the degree curriculum with qualified teachers instructing and students working toward a grade.


There are, finally, only two reasons for all students to study a foreign language. The first is that we are all, and increasingly, citizens of the world and must know how to interact with the others in culturally appropriate and significant ways, or we risk an endless string of 9/11s. The other is that the mission of people on earth is to know themselves. To do that, one needs a mirror, and the language and culture of others can reflect to us who we are so that we can take action to either continue in that vein, or change as required. The first of these reasons is arguably a moral imperative as a human being on earth. The second reason is, while not a moral imperative of the same order, nevertheless a human need that goes back at least to Socrates, has stood the test of time, and ultimately contributes to being able to perform admirable vis-a-vis the first reason.

Works Cited

Clark, Leon E. "Other-Wise: The case for understanding foreign cultures in a unipolar world." Social Education, Vol. 64, Issue 7, 2000.

Garrett, Nina. "Meeting national needs: the challenge to language learning in higher education.

Change, 1 May 2002

Gramberg, Anne-Katrin. "German for business and economics." The Clearing House, 1 July 2001.

Maxwell, David and Nina Garrett. "Meeting national needs: the challenge to language learning in higher education." Change, May… [END OF PREVIEW]

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