Hello, I wrote this while I was supposed to be writing a paper! Shhh! Anyhow, please voice your opinions on this matter and be forewarned...I haven't had the time to fix any spelling or grammar errors yet!
Recently, meaning last week, I received a form that I could scribble on what I wanted to do for my senior year of high school. Yes, that little registration form. But with it, came another form, a form that listed every class I needed to graduate, down to the last credit. One requirement I noted, much is actually not really a high school requirement more of a college requirement, is taking at least two years of language. I already fulfilled my two years, with the horror inducing Japanese, 日本語 anyone? It was not actually that bad, but back then in my freshman and sophomore years it did seem pretty cruel. But I must say I was grateful, for the opportunity to have a peak into a different language. I really wished they had more language options other than French, Spanish, and Japanese (although each one makes sense French is recognized as a EU language, Spanish and Spanish Immigrants, Pacific trading for Japanese). I myself already know Greek, as I was born there and grew up there, but I am also learning German on my own time.
What is the point of all this? My point is exactly that language requirement. I have heard from somewhere a quote that goes somewhat like this "Only Americans believe you can learn a language in two years". Whoever said it, spoke the truth. Learning a language is an ongoing task, and very hard to do at later ages. This is why I am proposing we change the requirements a) to begin at the very start of education. b) Encourage students to talk the language to each other, regardless of mistakes. c)have a buddy system so foreigners immigrating to the USA can teach Americans and vice versa. D) let students learn on their own.
The point a is to help "naturalize" the language. I can speak Greek in my head, but I have to fight tooth and nail to avoid turning my German into English and vice versa. It may be because of the two languages sharing so many similarities, since it does not happen so often with the drastically different syntax of Japanese. This action is called language interference, because the primary language interferences in learning a new language. By beginning at the very beginnings, we prevent that hesitation caused by fear of getting it wrong, and that pesky set language interference. Allowing the students to have the new language as a habit. After all, that principle applies to nearly every field. Did you know they are having success teaching calculus to second graders? SECOND graders! This principle at work. We are literally a sponge in these early years.
Point b is one, which must be driven and hammered in. I recall in my Japanese class that I hoped to whoever is out there my sensei would NOT pick me to talk in Japanese. Said person out there heeded my wishes most of the time. The result was unfortunately was my confidence in Japanese declined by 99%. I recall, that in my early days, my mother who was the one who taught my English forced me to read English and speak it, despite my disliking of it (it sounded odd). Where am I today? I speak, write, and read English, all because of her (moving to America did help a lot admittedly). Thus is why, I believe that the encouragement of speaking the language (in other words, forming communities, teachers requesting all dialogue be in said language etc) is one of the next best tools to learning the language. I do not recommend forcing a student to speak in class in front of an audience if he or she does not seem confident. Especially in older students. I would actually recommend, starting out small classes, and then going into big classes, for older students.
Due to the influx of immigrants illegal or not, perhaps we should capitalize on the language resource presented here. The buddy system would put two students together and admittedly I am not sure how well this system would work. In theory, the students would teach each other their language. However thinking about it now, it would most likely work for younger students. But this is also another idea that was spawned off from my experience. I know all too well, that students like myself love to talk in languages that would be a wall from their parents or teachers etc. The encouragement of development of a language between the two students would be easier than between a student and a teacher.
One of the final points that I have, which could be implemented the fastest, without much budget need. Is simply encouraging students to do points A B and C on their own. I myself am learning German on my own, with my own material, with only online material, books and occasional tutoring from an ex-German teacher who is very busy. So despite my waning willpower and the rising amount of homework I am learning to say things such as "Wie geht es Ihnen?". Or more useful one "Wie heißen Sie?".
Overall, I am glad colleges look for language electives in our transcript. I just wished our education system started foreign language learning earlier, to make it easier on all involved.