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I overheard an interesting conversation the other day about language learning. There was a middle-school administrator who was having difficulty with student motivation in Core French. The students were saying the class was boring and that they did not see how they would use French in their lives. The solution proposed by the administrator was to cut language learning and offer something else.
I immediately had an issue with this argument. I admit, I am biased when it comes to this subject, but I will try to reason why I feel that cutting language learning is not to the benefit of students.
Firstly, the last time I heard a student saying these same things it was in regards to a Math class. Would any middle-school administrator consider for a moment cutting their Math course because the students thought it was boring and irrelevant to their daily lives? I would say that the chances are low. The reason for this is the importance of the subject. Both Math and Languages have benefits beyond the actual subject. Alberta Education even goes as far as to say that language learning has an impact on ” intellectual potential, scholastic achievement, first language skills, citizenship and the economy”(http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/resources/learnlang/benefits.aspx).
Secondly, where is the role of the teacher in the student engagement piece of this debate? Generally, when a class is seen to be “boring” we would look at the activities being asked of the students, the way they are interacting with the subject and the overall engagement being encouraged by the teacher. I feel that in this case because the administrator feels they can cut the course, they can overlook the pedagogy question. I know of teachers who make language learning fun, just as I know of teachers who make Math fun, despite the general opinions of our middle-school population. These teachers use the students interests to make it interesting, they choose activities that engage the learners, they reach out to other people and interact in a meaningful way, they teach culture as well as language. The kids adore their language classes.
In our current globalized world, where companies do business anywhere, I believe there is more reason than ever to introduce the concept of language learning. Language learning will also bring openness to new cultures and people, a requisite skill in today’s world.
I did not say that teaching languages is easy, just as I would never say teaching Math is easy. The argument I am making is that languages are important and need to be treated with the same rigor and professionalism that other subjects do. We would be doing our students a disservice if we were to cut language classes.