Ezra Klein thinks that too many young people are learning useless languages:

Unless quite a few more folks than I think plan on doing development work in Africa, the absurd amount of French-language education going on in schools makes no sense {…} why we’re not throwing those resources into Chinese and a nearer dialect of Spanish baffles me.

I’m inclined to agree. I do have to tread at least a little bit carefully here as my sister co-majored in French and she is a much smarter and already more successful person than myself, but at the very least we ought to be branching out to the greatest extent possible. Some people in the comments point out that it’s difficult to get teachers for some foreign languages. I can’t imagine that we can’t find enough Chinese willing to come over here and teach Mandarin in return for a green card.

To the extent we focus on a single other language, that language should be Spanish (particularly if you’re west of the Mississippi River). Though I do think that Spanish is the #1 foreign language taught in schools, I don’t think it is so by a wide enough margin. I’d say the same about Canadians and French, except even moreso.

One of the more admirable things about the missionary program of the LDS church is that Mormons know foreign languages in very impressive numbers. It also makes them more fun to be around during the World Cup, cause they’re generally rooting for their mission countries or whatever they’re called.


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12 Responses to Second Languages

  1. Bob V says:

    Part of my the-real-reason series:
    What would we do with all of the existing French teachers? Do you think the teachers’ unions in this country would let you bring in a bunch of Chinese people to compete with them? Remember that most competent Americans here can’t even teach because of certification requirements.

    We don’t teach relevant skills to kids because teaching kids isn’t the primary purpose of education. It’s to keep those in the industry employed and give parents someplace to drop off their kids while they go to work.

    [Sorry, I got out on the wrong side of the bed this morning.]

  2. trumwill says:

    I think you could simply start phasing it out over time. You don’t have to fire the French teachers, just stop replacing most of them.

    I completely agree as far as the education establishment is concerned.

  3. Webmaster says:

    So let me get it straight: you’re in favor of creating the “bilingual ubermensch” nonsense like the problem in French Canada, where thanks to their laws a full 30% of the jobs are deliberately locked so that only someone who has certified French/English dual fluency can even apply?

    Sorry, I disagree. Learning a second language is great and all, but nobody should be telling someone “you have to take this so you can talk to the illegal immigrants.”

    I think that’s a problem. I learned German when I was in school. I used it when I traveled, though most Germans caught on pretty quick and wanted to practice their English on me. Led to some pretty interesting conversations in which we were each correcting each other’s use of the language, and it was a lot of fun.

    But if you’re going to learn a language, you should learn it because you enjoy it. I was required to take 3 weeks each of French, German, and Spanish during middle school. French bored me. Spanish, to me, was annoying. German was fun to learn. So I followed up on German.

    Bob’s got a good point about certification requirement nonsense, too.

  4. trumwill says:

    So let me get it straight: you’re in favor of creating the “bilingual ubermensch” nonsense like the problem in French Canada, where thanks to their laws a full 30% of the jobs are deliberately locked so that only someone who has certified French/English dual fluency can even apply?

    Uhmm… that’s not really what I said. Never said anything about illegal immigrants, either.

  5. Webmaster says:

    Okay, fair enough. Just pointing out that Canada’s got this “focus” thing you speak of, and it’s turned out for the worst.

    In the extreme, it could be pushed to the point where everyone was forced to take Spanish as well as English; we already have a problem with too many “ESL Only” schools and teaching positions as it is.

  6. trumwill says:

    ESL is also somewhat off-topic since I’m talking about what to teach people that speak English natively. What to do about those that don’t speak English natively is a different discussion (and one not likely to occur here).

    For the most part, English is the default second language in Europe. Since English is our first language, if we are to have a first other language (hence my phrasing” To the extent we focus on a single other language…”) it should be Spanish, in my view. Not only because of those in America that speak it, but also because it’s the language of our neighbor, one of our biggest trading partners, and most of the American continents.

    {this comment has been modified by its author}

  7. Webmaster says:

    That’s a much better phrasing of what you intended, I think I see what you are saying now.

    However, I disagree with the idea that Spanish should be the “default second language”; if it’s the language of our southern neighbor, fine, but we have a northern neighbor that’s bilingual, and we have trading partners all over the world.

    Focusing on one is silly.

  8. Abel says:

    The Bulgarian I know is pretty worthless though I did impress Marathon Girl with it when we went to a Bulgarian restaurant in Vegas. And Bulgaria doesn’t even have a good enough team to qualify for the World Cup. I lose on both counts!

  9. trumwill says:

    Yeah I was thinking about you when I made the comment about missionaries and how you got stuck with a less-than-useful language. One of my former coworkers in Deseret missioned in Chile and the Spanish he learned assured him a job with the company. I’d guess that the LDS doesn’t do a whole lot of mission work in China, so probably not a whole lot learn Chinese languages. Correct?

    Have you read the Harry Potter books? In the book I’m listening to now the Bulgarian team Quidditch team made it to the Quidditch World Cup, though they lost to Ireland.

  10. logtar says:

    Wow, how did someone get Illegal immigration out of your post? Some people are just fishing for topics LOL

    I speak Spanish and English, my next one is going to be French. Why, because I learned some at school and it is easy to find here in the US. I would totally learn Chinese if it was more readily available.

  11. Abel says:

    The LDS missionary work in China is limited to Hong Kong (as far as I know anyway) so, you’re correct in assuming there are not a lot of Chineese language speakers within the LDS population.

    I think I’m one of the few people on earth who have not read a single Harry Potter book. But I have seen all the movies. The last movie had the Quidditch match between Bulgaria and Ireland. I got a kick out of that. I don’t know how the main Bulgarian guy, Viktor Krum, is protrayed in the books but in the movie his attitude and mannerisms seemed totally Bulgarian to me.

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