A Waste of a Class 

By Sophia Doan and Donya Vandersteen

Have you ever walked into your foreign language class, questioning if it will ever be relevant in the future? Wondering if you will really ever be able to speak the language you’re supposed to be learning? For most high schoolers, foreign language classes consist of throwing away valuable time and memorizing grammar and conjugations that won’t be useful after high school. Why do the UC system and the Campbell Union High School District care? Here are five reasons why we believe that mandatory language classes in public education are not beneficial.

  1. Language Classes Take Away From Academic Opportunities. 

We are required to take language classes for at least 2 years to graduate high school. Taking a language class removes the option for students to take classes they are interested in, or are passionate about. If the language classes were electives instead of required, students would be able to pursue their interests, allowing students who truly want to learn another language the opportunity of an open class full of dedicated students. Because they are required, many students end up struggling to balance a seventh period and sports or other extracurricular activities in order to take interesting, higher level classes.

  1. Short-Term Memorization Instead of Long-Term Learning. 

As someone who nearly fluently speaks and understands a second language, I know that it takes more than three years to learn one sufficiently. I took about two years of classes outside of school to learn my mom’s native language, Farsi. Looking back on my countless afternoons spent filling out worksheets in textbooks and being tested on how much I had learned, I now realize that I learned more from being around people who spoke the same language than I ever did trying to be taught one. Since learning a language in high school is a requirement for college, many students lack the ambition to learn it since they are being forced to. The typical goal of learning a language is to either become fluent or be able to converse with someone who is fluent, while a student’s goal in school is to memorize words and get an A. In school, we are taught basic communication skills and end up spending hours after class preparing for tests, cramming in information by memorizing simple phrases, conjugations, and vocabulary words only for them to be forgotten shortly after. Instead of really learning and understanding the new language, we only remember what is necessary in order to get a good grade on the tests and hopefully end up with an A by the end of the year. 

  1. Grammar and Conjugation. 

Furthermore, the material taught in a Spanish, French, or Mandarin class is mostly grammar tricks and acronyms to memorize the proper way to address someone. When a toddler starts to learn their native language, the parents don’t criticize them if their grammar or pronunciation is wrong. Instead, they teach the child the actual language while encouraging and praising them. Being graded on your ability to memorize the grammatical structure of a language you don’t speak or understand is the reason so many students complain about or fail their language classes. A language class should teach how to communicate over time, not memorize the same conjugations over and over for years. 

  1. Different Teaching and Learning Styles.

Some of the teachers who are teaching their native language are hard to understand, while others who learned it as their second language tend to struggle to teach the language. With a class of 25 to 30 students with different learning styles and needs, teachers are already set up for failure. Many teachers struggle to help different students with different ways to learn, and it’s on a whole other level in a language class. Some people learn better through repetition, some conversation, and others studying a list of words. The teachers at Westmont do a great job of helping students learn, but inevitably, some get left behind in the process. Seeing as language learning is developed with building blocks—using what you already learned to learn something new—it’s hard for teachers to cater to a group of students that learn at different rates. Furthermore, teachers cover different topics at different paces, so switching teachers every year can be challenging. 

  1. Language Classes Are A Requirement Not A Choice.

In most high schools, language classes are necessary to graduate and for getting into certain colleges. Because students are forced to take them, they lack interest in actually learning the language, seeing it as more of a task rather than an opportunity. This influences many students to misbehave and goof off, disrupting the learning of those who are actually interested in speaking a foreign language and those who want to succeed in the class. The pressure to get into a good college (especially a UC school!) is stressed in the countless presentations we receive throughout the school year. In every slideshow, we are presented with the same information about the A-G requirements and how we are mandated to take two years of a foreign language and for a UC, three. To summarize, having to take language classes—and being heavily encouraged to immerse ourselves in them—affects the quality of learning as well as the ability to comprehend what they are being taught.