Save the languages!!!

World languages come with many benefits, but fewer and fewer students take the classes


Athena Miransky

Spanish teacher Stephanie Vences instructs her 5th block Honors Spanish 4 class of 10 students.

According to the National Foreign Language survey, only 20% of American high school students are enrolled in a foreign language, and in Missouri, only 15%. After the removal of German and Japanese classes, Parkway South world language teachers are stressing the importance of bilingual education and cultural understanding. 

The benefits of learning a second language are insurmountable in travel destinations, thinking skills, open-mindedness, and more. So, the question is: why are less students taking world languages? 

 French teacher Martine Ovlia says, “I read once about a study where they compared the brain of children who could speak two languages with children who could speak only one. The ones capable of speaking two languages had a much bigger brain!” 

Benefits go beyond just academics, however. Learning a second language can also help students communicate, earn a place in the work force, and be more culturally in tune. 

Sophomore Noor Abusharbain speaks multiple languages.

“Because I speak Arabic and Thai, I can communicate with my family better,” she said. “Another advantage is basically getting any job you want.” 

A second language can definitely be a helpful tool in the work field, opening up opportunities around the world as translators or interpreters. 

The cultural aspect of world languages is also huge; Spanish teacher Stephanie Vences explains, “You can’t just take the words you would say in English and translate them then directly apply it, you have to learn how people interact with each other or you’ll seem rude.” 

To properly communicate in a foreign land, understanding the culture is key. Even without travel, being well-rounded culturally allows you to connect with new people and opportunities, as well as expanding your mind.

Despite all the advantages, some teachers have noticed a new phenomenon; each year, it seems like less and less students are taking world languages. A few language classes have died out at Parkway South, beginning with the Japanese program, which unfortunately was just not supported by enough students to keep going. Shortly after, Parkway made a decision to remove German classes from middle schools, leading less and less students to take German in high school. The consequential waning of students in German classes caused it to be removed at a high school level soon after. The newest development is the district decision to take away the Latin class at some Parkway middle schools.  

Although language classes are struggling, there is hope for some. Spanish, a language widely used in areas around the U.S., is still going strong. Vences says that, because of the language’s strong utility, it’s unlikely to become less popular, at least in the next few years. 

Languages like Latin, that have died out in the speaking world, rely on schools and teaching to keep the culture alive. Latin teacher Jason Tierney tells us that, “Latin is a more interdisciplinary subject class. Other languages are doing culture and language in their class, but we also do archeology and history.“ 

If Latin was to die out in schools, it would come with the history and culture behind it. 

If the benefits of world language are so overwhelming, why does it seem like less and less students are choosing to take a world language? There are a couple theories flying around. One teacher told me he thinks a possible reason could be that more students are being allowed to take “late arrival,” “study hall” or “early dismissal” and not take a full schedule of classes. Another reason could be that students know that taking a world language is not a prerequisite to graduating from South. It’s true that most colleges, including Mizzou, require a year of foreign language for admission, so many students just take the bare minimum to fulfill the requirement. 

Another possibility could be the rise of technology. With growing programs like DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone, students have the resources to learn new languages at home, without the need for a classroom. However, there are some issues with these programs. For one, it operates on an honor system. If you don’t feel like learning, it’s easy to just close the app and forget about it. In contrast, an in-school class keeps students accountable to their study and gives them a more structured way to learn. There are also resources available to teachers that aren’t to the public, and opportunities like foreign exchange trips that are only offered by certain classes. 

Madam Ovlia agrees that technology could be the culprit, but for a different reason. She tells us, “As for technology there is no doubt it affects the lack of interest in learning a foreign language. It definitely affects memorization. When you can go on the Internet to find the information you need why bother remembering it? Many studies have found that when students multitask while doing homework they remember or understand less. You need full attention to be able to memorize and unfortunately students can’t focus or pay attention for a very long time because of using technology all the time.” 

Whether the new resources, or lack of attention, technology definitely plays a part. Ovlia also mentions the effects of COVID, which caused some students to fall behind or forget the language they learned in earlier years. 

All-in-all, the decline in foreign language students can likely be attributed to a mixture of these factors. The important part is to remind ourselves of the importance of experiencing new cultures and keeping an open mind in an ever-growing world.