March 2, 2005
After reading the March 2, 2005 article by Jennifer González “Hola español Au revoir français,”
I had a mixed reaction. As a teacher of two modern languages and a
student of a few more, I feel compelled to say up front that the study of any
language is vital and the promotion of the study of languages is key not only to a student's professional success, but
intellectual success as well. The study of any language, French, Spanish,
Latin, or Chinese, for a period of three years increases one's SAT verbal score
by 100 points. It doesn't matter which
one. After four years, this benefit adds
up to a 125 point increase. The fact
that only 45% of
That being said, parents, students, educators, and administrators must be equipped with accurate information about languages in order to make informed decisions about which language to choose. Unfortunately, this decision is often made based on inaccurate information or outright myths, such as a particular language is “easier” or “harder” than another, or one will improve your English more, or one is more “important.”
Spanish is unquestionably the second language of the US and the dominant language of the Western Hemisphere. But as Dr. Engelking accurately noted, French is a truly global language used in over 50 countries. The US exports more to French-speaking countries than to countries using any other language and France is one of the three largest investors in the US. Due to these facts, French is still by far the second most widely studied "foreign" language in the US. Only Spanish and French have student enrollments over a million. There are more students of French than there are students of every other modern and classical language (except Spanish) combined.
In recent years, the effect that negative political opinions towards France have had on enrollment cannot be ignored. However, it must also be noted that the French only represent 60 million of the more than 250 million French-speakers worldwide. The vast majority of French speakers live in countries other than France, most in Africa. This fact was brought to life for my students during the recent visit by Senegalese center DeSagana Diop to our school through the Cleveland Cavaliers' "Read to Achieve" program.
Painfully absent from discussions of French vs. Spanish vs. Latin vs. Chinese is a discussion about including other widely spoken world languages (such as Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, Pashtu, Farsi, Portuguese, and Bengali) to the US educational curriculum.
Perhaps we can one day get to the place where it is no longer a question of which language to study, but rather which ones--as is common in most other countries. We do not debate whether it is better to study algebra instead of geometry, American rather than British literature, or biology over physics. In fact, such debates would likely be dismissed as silly. Since 2005 has been designated as "The Year of Languages," we should work to make the same true for the study of world languages.