Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 6, 2013

Another View: Mich. needs more foreign language


---- — Michigan’s rigorous high school graduation standards are again under discussion in the Legislature, and this time one of the targets is the requirement of at least two years of a foreign language. The high school curriculum is definitely worth reviewing, but in a shrinking world where people of different countries are increasingly drawn together, we don’t need less language education, we need more.

HB 4102, sponsored by Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, would allow students to substitute computer science for either the existing foreign language or Algebra 2 requirement. The intent is to create more flexibility in course selection for students, especially those interested in vocational classes. However, we believe foreign language is an essential part of a well-rounded education and eliminating the language requirement would be a step backward for Michigan students.

As a matter of national competitiveness, America urgently needs more foreign-language speakers - in business, in government, in the military - to communicate with the rest of the world. And we need skills in languages beyond the Spanish and French typically taught in high school - in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and other tongues spoken by hundreds of millions of people. A company of any size in today’s global economy is an international business, buying, selling and collaborating overseas. Mastery of a foreign language is almost a golden ticket for employment. And that’s not to mention the benefits of cultural understanding or brain development that comes when a student learns another language.

While most Europeans take one and often two foreign languages beginning in elementary school, the United States may be the only major country where someone can graduate from high school and college without ever studying another language. Which students do you think are better prepared to function in a globalized economy? ...

Which gets us back to the bigger question of the state’s graduation requirements. First ...parents who take the time to work with school counselors can often work out a curriculum that’s better suited to their children. Second, the requirements are about giving students options ... not providing specific skills for specific jobs. ...

Similarly, learning a language in high school gives a student exposure to it and the chance to pursue it at a higher level. Letting a student slide through high school without taking challenging, advanced courses closes all kinds of doors for them. ...

We certainly welcome a thorough discussion of Michigan’s high school curriculum. We agree that students in vocational training programs should have options that integrate advanced math and science. However, we oppose any effort to water down the high school curriculum, and that includes any move to de-emphasize foreign language education.

The Holland Sentinel