Do I really need to take a foreign language?


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     Iím often asked, "Do I have to take a foreign language to go to college?" Iíd love to have a one-word answer, particularly if it was correct, but itís really not that simple. Students frequently hear that they must take a language (two years actually) in order to go to college. They hear it from parents, friends, and teachers. They even hear it from guidance counselors. Iím sure that very often it is excellent advice. Iím also sure that in many cases, it is questionable advice at best.

     The inescapable fact is that while many good colleges and universities have a foreign language requirement, there are also many that donít. Now I understand the idea of keeping your options open. With that in mind, many students will want to finish two years of a language. Iím concerned though, with the students who may be better served by avoiding this "requirement." Who are they?

     Two "typical" examples come to mind. First, there is the student who takes a full load of academic classes (CP level and above) and simply has a very difficult time with a language. In my experience itís extremely unlikely for a student to get a C or D in their first year of a language class and then to improve in the second year. Is that student best served by struggling through (and perhaps failing) a second year? What about the effect on GPA and class rank, even if the second year is passed? Isnít it possible that this student be better advised to take a challenging course in another area and excel?

     Even more troublesome in my mind is the student who takes mostly general level classes and then struggles through a CP language class. The language is taken, presumably, to allow the student to "go to college." A quick look at some of the colleges that have a language requirement will show that almost without exception, they also require students to have taken a full load of CP level classes. What could possibly be the point of meeting the smaller language requirement while ignoring the much more significant requirement for CP level classes? This student would most likely be better served by planning on beginning his or her college education at a community college, where there would be no foreign language requirement.

     Whatís the answer? First, we should all recognize that there is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" answer to course selection. Next, students should be encouraged to consider, from at least the beginning of their high school career, what the next step might be for them. If a student struggles in a language class, but itís vital to plans for the future, the struggle will simply have to be endured. On the other hand, if a review of the situation indicates the language really isnít needed, is it worth enduring at any cost?

     For the record I just spent 10 minutes looking up requirements of some of the schools my students commonly apply to. The results of this quickly thrown-together survey came out like this:

(This mini-survey was done in May 2003)

College or University

Foreign Language Requirement




Berkeley College


SAT test optional

Camden County College


Gloucester County College


Rowan University


Rider University


Rutgers University


Temple University


     This seems to indicate clearly that not all of our students need to take a foreign language. What it doesnít tell you is who needs the language and who doesnít. Again, there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer. Students and parents must evaluate the total situation on an individual basis to make the best possible choice.  Please talk to your counselor as this can be a very tricky subject.


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