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Selecting a Language

Many issues are involved in the question of language choice: the program model selected, availability of resources (teachers, textbooks, etc.), the potential for articulation from elementary to secondary programs, and the language background of the community. Questions concerning the purpose of the program must be carefully considered.

Myriam Met provides an excellent discussion of the many reasons for selecting a particular language. These reasons are closely tied to the rationale for learning languages at the elementary school level and are summarized below.

1. Choose a language that will help students communicate in the international marketplace
Our manufacturing economy is tied to international trade. Since competitiveness depends on our ability to communicate effectively about our products, foreign language proficiency is an important aspect of economic success. Considerable speculation exists as to which language is most important. Many cite Japanese; others cite other Pacific Rim languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, Malay-Indonesian, or Korean. German and Russian are mentioned with increasing frequency as extremely important to our country's economic success.

2. Choose a language that furthers the national interest
Political, global interdependence is an important factor in today's world. Foreign language proficiency and cultural understanding will contribute to improve international communications and diplomacy. In this arena, no one language stands out as being more important than others.

3. Choose a language that will enable students to live in a multiethnic society
Many Americans are interested in learning the language of their ancestors. Interest in Spanish has grown considerably in the United States because of its immediate utility in communicating and in developing good relationships with the increasing number of native Spanish speakers in communities throughout the U.S.

No one choice can satisfy all the purposes for studying a foreign language. Compelling rationale can be developed for choosing to offer any language, and any language--when it is well taught--can provide students with the benefits of global awareness, enhanced academic skills, identification with other cultures, self-esteem, and enhanced communication skills.

Compiled by Helena Curtain from:
Met, M. (1989). Which foreign languages should students learn? "Educational Leadership, 47(1)," 54-58.