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Myrtonos

Difficulties with mandating the teaching of foreign languages

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Myrtonos

In this very important thread, I'm going to address difficulties with mandatory teaching of foreign languages, these difficulties do not apply to mandating teaching of other subjects. I've never heard of these being acknowledged, but I have long noticed them. As far as I know, even those opposed to this mandation don't acknowledge them. First of all, if someone is required to learn at least one foreign language at school, which language are they to learn?

Also, this in fact means that schoolchildren are required to learn at least one officially licensed foreign language, whether or not they learn any other. If they attend a school in the public school system, they are required to learn one of the languages taught at that school, and usually this is one of the biggest Berlitz languages, most often French, German, Spanish or Italian. Chinese and Japanese are also commonly taught.

There are also serious flaws in the reasoning given in favour of requiring all schoolchildren to learn at least one foreign language. One reason given is job opportunities; Learning different foreign languages opens up different job opportunities, there is no job opportunity that can be opened up simply by learning at least one foreign language.

The worst one is that learning a second language improves one's communication skills or makes one smarter. First of all, does learning another languages really improve one's skills at communicating to other native speakers of one's own language. Also, the belief that learning a second language makes you smarter assumes that we think in language, but if that were the case, than anything that can't be said couldn't be thought. Indeed the more words one learns in one's native language, the more thoughts one can transcribe.

And when is the last time you have heard of someone learning another language just to get smarter or improve one's skills at communicating with native speakers of one's own language. If so, which language?

Edited by Myrtonos

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Myrtonos

Another reason given is that by learning a language we learn about culture. First of all, does that, if you think about it does it sound more like a reason to encourage, not mandate? And learn about which culture? As if, say, we learn about life in a hunter-gatherer society in an arid environment simply learning the Nama language of Namibia?

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StarlessEclipse

I'm no linguistic expert, but I do have some relatively recent personal experience that I feel is relevant. French was by far my least favourite subject at school, not because of any predisposition against learning a language, but because mandating that everybody learn against their will something that requires so much dedication and enthusiasm is plainly a recipe for disaster.

The combination of boredom and the inevitable lack of progress meant that disruptive behaviour got out of control in every single mandatory class. My teacher was a very nice woman who clearly loved her subject, but genuinely seemed to have become a shadow of her former self on the verge of a nervous breakdown by the end of the year because the situation was so dire.

I remember absolutely no one who chose to carry on after the mandatory language years were over, because everyone was just so glad to be free of the abject misery that those classes always were. If the subject had stopped being mandatory after the first year and people didn't end up scarred by those bad experiences, there would undoubtedly have been many more enthusiasts willing to carry on. I have a qualification on paper, but I can honestly say I've retained nothing from those four years. The whole thing was a total shambolic disaster.

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Nesf

I agree that foreign language learning should not be manditory in schools. It should be optional. The only subjects which should be manditory are basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, because they will form the basis of whaterver else you choose to do in life. I enjoyed learning languages at school, but I know that not everyone does.

I also agree that one cannot improve one's communication skills in one's mother tongue through learning a foreign language. The main goal and motivation of those learning a foreign language is to learn to communicate in that language, not to communicate better in their mother tongue. However, many of the teaching materials contain some valuable social communication scripts, essay writing skills and presentation skills which are transferable to a person's own culture and may help those who have communication difficulties, such as those with ASD. I personally benefit from many of the materials for business English, for example, and area of communication that I find particularly difficult, though I know that this is not relevant to manditory teaching in schools.

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Myrtonos
On 5/29/2018 at 2:14 PM, Sirius said:

I'm no linguistic expert, but I do have some relatively recent personal experience that I feel is relevant. French was by far my least favourite subject at school, not because of any predisposition against learning a language, but because mandating that everybody learn against their will something that requires so much dedication and enthusiasm is plainly a recipe for disaster.

And this requires more dedication and enthusiasm than doing the same with subjects like reading, writing and numeracy skills, and even some academic subjects.

On 5/29/2018 at 2:14 PM, Sirius said:

I remember absolutely no one who chose to carry on after the mandatory language years were over, because everyone was just so glad to be free of the abject misery that those classes always were. If the subject had stopped being mandatory after the first year and people didn't end up scarred by those bad experiences, there would undoubtedly have been many more enthusiasts willing to carry on. I have a qualification on paper, but I can honestly say I've retained nothing from those four years. The whole thing was a total shambolic disaster.

Suppose there were a point system where students earn points from incidental use of the language in question and had to earn a certain number of points at a minimum to continue beyond the mandatory years.

3 hours ago, Nesf said:

I agree that foreign language learning should not be manditory in schools. It should be optional. The only subjects which should be manditory are basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, because they will form the basis of whaterver else you choose to do in life. I enjoyed learning languages at school, but I know that not everyone does. 

Note I am referring to the difficulties with government mandation. If a school requires all students to learn at least one foreign language, that's a different matter. In that case, learning a second language is a condition for attending the school and does not apply to students of other schools. If learning Latin were a condition for attending Catholic schools, parents who don't want their children mandated that they learn it against their will could just send their children to other schools. If learning Hebrew were a condition for attending Jewish schools, a similar thing would apply, don't send children to a Jewish school if you don't want them mandated to learning it against their will.

That's the best I could do with responding to both the posts above.

 

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HalfFull

I never thought it was a bad thing when French was made mandatory for Years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16) at the school I had left not long before. I was in one of the last years who only had to do it for 3 years and could then choose it as an option as I did. Needless to say that it increases the possibility of being able to communicate with a French customer in the workplace. In some schools, this could be German or Spanish. English is mandatory to age 16 or above in most Western European countries and many speak it fluently. I kind of feel like they should not be expected to make all the effort. At the same time making it optional for at least the final 2 years of High school might be the fairest way. Certainly its pointless making a subject requiring particular skills mandatory if the time could be put to better use using a different skill, but what we don't want is to rely entirely on the people we do trade with knowing English, as it may be a recipe for disaster.

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Myrtonos

@HalfFull Whether you thought it was a bad thing or not there are difficulties with government mandation of foreign languages. Are you referring to learning French being a condition for attending your school? As I said, this is different from a government mandation. Here are the difficulties:

  • If someone is required to learn at least one foreign language at school, which language are they to learn?
  • Government mandation means that schoolchildren are required to learn at least one officially licensed foreign language, whether or not they learn any other.
  • If they attend a school in the public school system, they are required to learn one of the languages taught at that school, and usually this is one of the biggest Berlitz languages. In most English speaking countries, at least in the Northern Hemisphere this is most commonly French, German, Spanish or Italian.

And then there are flaws in the reasoning given:

  • Learning different foreign languages opens up different job opportunities, there is no job opportunity that can be opened up simply by learning at least one foreign language. But learning mathematics, even high school maths (geometry, algebra and analysis) opens up much more job opportunities, and it opens the same job opportunities to everyone who does well enough in maths.
  • Learning a second language does not improve one's skills at communicating with other native speakers of one's own language and doesn't always makes one smarter.
  • Learning the grammar and vocabulary of a another language reveals next to nothing about the culture that speaks it.

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HalfFull

In my school, learning French for 3 years was a condition of attending, and 5 years for pupils joining from 1987 onwards. However, in the UK if a school follows the National Curriculum as the vast majority do, then 5 years foreign language learning will be imposed on the school as part of the deal. There are or were some schools opting out of the National Curriculum, but chances are that fewer subjects were on offer, and tutors and the school were under more pressure to make their lessons work effectively. I think the National Curriculum helps provide a framework, though yes there may be some disadvantages.

It will always be French, German, Spanish or Italian for the National Curriculum schools. The schools that opt out might not be required to offer a language but I'd need to research it to find out for sure. I agree that forcing non-interested pupils to learn a language isn't a great idea. I'd possibly be in agreement about not making it a compulsory subject from age 14, but I think that for 11 to 14 year olds its better to be a feature of the timetable. Maybe they could make a compromise though that those really not interested instead do extra Maths or Science, or should Art, Drama and Music be made optional from age 11 too? It should certainly be available as otherwise international trade will really suffer as it could end up one day that most of the world speaks English but hardly any English people speak a second language! Imagine that!

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Myrtonos
On 6/23/2018 at 5:41 AM, HalfFull said:

In my school, learning French for 3 years was a condition of attending, and 5 years for pupils joining from 1987 onwards. However, in the UK if a school follows the National Curriculum as the vast majority do, then 5 years foreign language learning will be imposed on the school as part of the deal. There are or were some schools opting out of the National Curriculum, but chances are that fewer subjects were on offer, and tutors and the school were under more pressure to make their lessons work effectively. I think the National Curriculum helps provide a framework, though yes there may be some disadvantages.

Well, one problem with such mandation is what it encourages foreign language teachers to do, and these practices were despised by Michel Thomas and are currently despised by Mihalis Eleftheriou, particularly pressure to get things right.

On 6/23/2018 at 5:41 AM, HalfFull said:

It will always be French, German, Spanish or Italian for the National Curriculum schools. The schools that opt out might not be required to offer a language but I'd need to research it to find out for sure. I agree that forcing non-interested pupils to learn a language isn't a great idea. I'd possibly be in agreement about not making it a compulsory subject from age 14, but I think that for 11 to 14 year olds its better to be a feature of the timetable. Maybe they could make a compromise though that those really not interested instead do extra Maths or Science, or should Art, Drama and Music be made optional from age 11 too? It should certainly be available as otherwise international trade will really suffer as it could end up one day that most of the world speaks English but hardly any English people speak a second language! Imagine that!

While I would like to see a substantial portion of students learning some foreign language, particularly if their parents or some other relative use one at home, this doesn't take away difficulties with a government mandation of foreign language learning that applies to all schoolchildren.

It is different if there is a specific reason for requiring all schoolchildren to learn a specific foreign language. Here, the difficulties mentioned above don't apply. As I said, they don't not apply to mandation of other subjects taught in one's own language. Well sort of, it doesn't apply to teaching of maths, unless all schoolchildren were required to learn at least one branch of maths but not any specific branch. It doesn't apply to a requirement to learn say, general history or the history of one's own country or area. But a requirement to learn the history of at least one other country would indeed be similar to mandation of foreign languages.

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Myrtonos

Also, @HalfFull in your case, and in the case of the school of @StarlessEclipse, there was a specific language other than English that everyone attending that school had to learn. Also, those not attending that particular school obviously didn't necessarily have to learn.

What I am referring to is where a government requires all children in any school in a given jurisdiction to learn at least one officially licensed language. It forces at decision at every school there as to which of those languages to teach there. There is a difficulty with that approach.

Furthermore, there are flaws even in the very reasoning behind the mandation. The very idea that a language other than English is a very important part of education has always surprised me, especially if it seen as no less important that other subjects taught in English. There is a big difference between learning another language and learning something else, like maths, science, history, or even art or music, in one's own language.

Learning to speak, and even write, is a more fundamental skill than just about any other, such as singing and athletic ability.

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