Foreign Languages Fading Except for Chinese

I have a bunch of stories I've been holding onto because we had so much breaking news. This article was in the NY Times about a government -financed survey found how thousands of public schools in the U.S. have stopped teaching foreign languages (not the trend here, clearly). But the one lanaguage that does seem to be growing in popularity is Chinese. From the article:

"Among America’s approximately 27,500 middle and high schools offering at least one foreign language, the proportion offering Chinese rose to 4 percent, from 1 percent, from 1997 to 2008, according to the survey, which was done by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a research group in Washington, and paid for by the federal Education Department."

“It’s really changing the language education landscape of this country,” said Nancy C. Rhodes, a director at the center and co-author of the survey."

And AP Chinese is rapidly taking over German as the third most take AP foreign language test (after Spanish and French).

"The results, released last year, confirmed that Spanish was taught almost universally. The survey found that 88 percent of elementary schools and 93 percent of middle and high schools with language programs offered Spanish in 2008.

The overall decline in language instruction was mostly due to its abrupt decline in public elementary and middle schools; the number of private schools and public high schools offering at least one language remained stable from 1997 to 2008"

"America has had the study of a foreign language grow before, only to see the bubble burst. Many schools began teaching Japanese in the 1980s, after Japan emerged as an economic rival. But thousands have dropped the language, the survey found."

"Japanese is not the only language that has declined. Thousands of schools that offered French, German or Russian have stopped teaching those languages, too, the survey found."

This decline in Japanese also means, for us locally, that students who promote out of JSIS and Hamilton might have fewer high school choices (right off-hand the only high schools I know that teaches Japanese are Garfield, Roosevelt, Chief Sealth, Hale and Ingraham if Chinese might start pushing Japanese out.

"Some schools are paying for Chinese classes on their own, but hundreds are getting some help. The Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools all over the world — and paying part of their salaries.

At a time of tight budgets, many American schools are finding that offer too good to refuse.

“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher,” she said. “I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”

(Jackson’s Chinese teacher is not free; the Chinese government pays part of his compensation, with the district paying the rest.)"

This is true in SPS. I know that West Seattle High had several Chinese teachers come this year but I don't know the details of the financial arrangements.


Sue said…
Just an FYI:Ballard teaches Japanese as well- as do Whitman middle school and Eckstein.
JSIS and Hamilton are not the only middle schools that offer Japanese.

And as I think part of Hamilton's new attendance area is assigned to Ballard, they should be just fine.

It was an interesting article though - I wouldn't be suprised to see a decline in say, French, as opposed to Japanese as we move to more instruction in Chinese maybe?
JSIS is not a middle school. I mentioned it because it was the first language immersion elementary. And, the problem is that there are some ELL kids at JSIS (that they want to keep coming because they like having native speakers at the school). But that runs counter to the new SAP (plus the headache of trying to then give those kids an "in" to Hamilton and then Ballard).

Always a ripple effect.
Sue said…
Ah, you're right! I forgot JSIS is elementary.

Don't get me started on the "ripple effect" - the new plan is already causing my blood pressure to skyrocket!
Patrick said…
I am disappointed at how many high schools have only one foreign language. In my high school, we had the choice of Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Chinese. In some of them, only the first year was offered in high school, and students who wished to continue could take them in community college.
Patrick, please don't mistake my listing of schools. I think all of our high schools offer at least 2 languages and most offer about 4 (Roosevelt and Garfield still have Latin).
SolvayGirl said…
I thought RBHS only offered French. Perhaps they added a language this year.
Patrick said…
Melissa, I wasn't responding to your list specifically but to the general lack of language options. I thought there were a couple of schools with only one choice, and even two choices isn't that many.
wsnorth said…
Learning Japanese (for non Japanese people) is a legacy of the past. Chinese is the Asian language of the present and future! Japanese should be phased out, but is still better than not learning any other language!
seattle citizen said…
wsnorth - IF we are only looking at either how many people speak a given language, or how it might benefit economically (trade etc) then maybe Chinese is the "language of the present and future!"
But people take languages for all sorts of reasons: college entrance, interest, linguistic study (Latin) etc...
Michael Rice said…

I have been here 5 years and we have offered French and Spanish every year.
Anonymous said…
Unless it's changed in the last 2 years, Franklin offered Japanese when my daughter was there, in addition to French and Spanish.

For the person who feels it should be phased out-there's a very large Japanese community around the greater Seattle area-why on earth would you want to stop offering the language in schools??
Unknown said…
SolvayGirl said…
Thanks Michael, I wasn't sure. Do many kids take French? It wouldn't strike me as that popular a language. I grew up in Central New York, and French was popular because many of us had relatives in and traveled to Quebec.
dj said…
It drives me bananas that language education isn't universally available at neighborhood elementary schools and that the language immersion school won't be option schools. High school is too late for many kids if they hope to develop fluency.
Sahila said…
Neurologically, kids are born wired to learn every language on the planet... then over time, because those neurons and synapses are not developed they are pruned back, and this capacity disappears with the use of only one (mother) tongue...

High school is too late to get kids easily fluent in another language and middle school is not much better... and the language training that words best is full immersion...

The entire world would be a better place if all kids were exposed to two or more languages from preschool up and if language was a core teaching all the way through school....
Agibean, who said no one wanted Japanese? The issue is whether the demand keeps up for it (given the growth of Chinese per this article) and if demand changes (neither of the other language immersion schools offers Japanese), the district might start phasing it out. I'm not saying that will happen but districts don't always base their language offerings on who lives there but on demand for the language.
Syd said…
French is still a world language, spoken in many countries in Asia and Africa.
wsnorth said…
I totally agree that any second language is better than just learning one native language. However, I honestly don't get the point of emphasizing the learning Japanese - I seriously don't see why it seems to get top billing in Asian languages here. Ideally the district would offer several European and several Asian languages, but it just doesn't seem to have the resources to do that. I'm glad to see the expansion of the International school programs, but think they should focus on a few langugages so students can actually learn them and continue through middle and high school.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, "wsnorth" said "Learning Japanese (for non Japanese people) is a legacy of the past. "

That's what I was referring to.
Jet City mom said…
I agree that it would be better to focus on a few languages students could study in depth with native teachers, rather than one or two years of a language with a substitute who took it in college.

My older daughter had Mandarin in elementary, Latin for two years in middle school and Spanish through the 5th year in high school.
Didn't take any language in college.

Younger daughter had French and ASL in early elementary, Latin and Spanish in middle school and through " 3rd" yr Spanish in high school. ( because her class was taught by a sub, most of the year, she didn't feel ready to go on to 4th year AP Spanish)

She is taking Arabic in college, as she plans for the Peace Corp in Africa after college.

Why don't we offer Arabic?
Jet City mom said…
Re: Chinese- from a 2007 Seattle TImes/Linda Shaw article

Each day in her four classes at three West Seattle schools, she swiftly leads students through pronunciation drills and vocabulary exercises -- there's so much to teach in her 18-month stint as one of first 34 "guest teachers" hired under a new partnership between China and the College Board.

Zhu Dan is one small part of her country's large-scale efforts to promote Mandarin as a must-learn language of the future.The Chinese government, through an institute called Hanban, has launched a number of initiatives over the past few years to spread the study of Chinese language and culture around the globe. It is sending guest teachers to large countries such as the United States, and smaller ones such as Sudan.

It has opened "Confucius Institutes" in more than 100 countries to fulfill the desire of a growing number of foreigners who want to learn Mandarin -- and to create even more demand. Most recently, the ribbon was cut at a new institute at Portland State University.

Americans "have realized China is a force to be reckoned with," said Michele Anciaux Aoki, a member of the steering committee for the Washington State Coalition for International Education and one of the people working to open a Confucius Institute here.

"China," she said, "is part of our future."

At the moment, however, just 24,000 students in the U.S. are studying Mandarin, according to the College Board. In China, roughly 200 million students are learning English, a required subject in Chinese schools from the third grade on. The College Board's partnership with Hanban is one effort to even out that disparity.
Unknown said…
Chief Sealth offers Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese during the day, Arabic after school. It is actually Chief Sealth that started offering Chinese programs. Denny and Sealth share a Chinese teacher, so does Madison and WSHS. Beacon Hill, Muir, and Graham Hill also have Chinese teachers. The teachers are from the College Board guest teacher program, but SPS is sending a group of native Chinese speakers who want to became teachers through a certification program. And Chief Sealth and Denny are going to host a Confucius Institute. It is a really a great program.
WenD said…
Phasing out Japanese? Why? I understand the rationale for increasing instruction of Mandarin. It's one of the top three languages spoken in the world. Japanese has a cultural impact that is seen in young people, if not in their elders, which makes it a cultural force. Chinese as well is a cultural force, not just the language we'll need for dealing with our creditors. It's another important language that exists as a cross cultural force, in our present as well as our future. Arabic too. You only have to look at our DOD failures to see how crucial this one is. French? Still widely spoken, and if you want to obtain Canadian citizenship, learn to speak and/or write it!

I grew up in the SW and learned Spanish by proxy. It wasn't my first choice in high school, because I was studying musicology, but I think it needs to be one of the Big 3 in our schools. It already has a presence because of ELL programs, and I think it's just easier to find well-qualified Spanish teachers.

World languages should be at the top of our list, beginning in kindy. I agree that middle school/HS is late in the game. After growing up with the screed that bilingual education was evil, I think the proof is overwhelming that learning two language concurrently i.e. full immersion, is the way to go. I don't think it takes away from literacy in English. The opposite, it reinforces native grammar and reading development. I say this with a kid who was wait listed, then dropped from JSIS, who is still learning on her own. No thanks to SPS, who can't even get basic reading and math literacy down for far too many kids. As for the parent component, if you're a principal given the task of running a school, you should be persuasive enough to enlist the willingness and support of as many parents as possible to promote literacy at home, including multilingual literacy. If you don't convince them using the cultural carrot, the employment carrot is one that few can ignore.

Sorry, end of rant. This one is just huge in our family, because we see the writing on the wall, no pun intended. My kids are learning a second language in spite of their school district.
WenD said…
Wanted to clarify something. RE: Arabic instruction, I said "You only have to look at our DOD failures to see how crucial this one is."

It sounds like I'm implying that it's only important to learn Arabic in order to spy or wage warfare. Sorry, I didn't intend this. Learning another language can lead the way toward preventing conflicts rather than creating them. Just one more reason to make world languages a priority.
TechyMom said…
Speaking multiple languages is something that a citizen of the world should be able to do. Americans have hidden behind our oceans and not participated as much as we should in the world. Overseas, we're thought boorish and uneducated, largely because of our inability to speak multiple languages. If we want to join the world, and I believe we should want this, then we need to teach our children multiple languges.

Speaking and reading multiple languages is something an educated person should be able to do. Do you want to read literature in its original language? A good deal of important literature was written in French, Russian, and German.

Not practical enough? Even if these are no longer languages for commerce, as arguably Mandarin and Spanish are, they are still common second languages, and can be very useful when travelling. Europeans value the scholarly aspects of languages, and most speak more than one. When travelling, you may encounter people who speak Polish and French but not English. Most people over a certain age in Eastern Europe speak Russian. Many Europeans and Africans speak French in addition to their native languages. There's no experience quite like communicating with someone when each of you is using your second or third language.

The human brain is designed to learn languages, but that ability drops off sharply at a couple of points during development (age 7 and puberty, IIRC). Every kid should be exposed to as many languages as possible before this happens. Every high school graduate should be able to communicate at a functional level in at least one language. This always has been part of basic education in most places. It must become part of a basic American education in the 21st century.
Rebecca Timson said…
I am a strong supporter of early language learning. But it is not true that high school (or any time in life) is "too late" for this kind of learning. This is a myth, which grew out of widespread misunderstanding of brain research. But language instruction in the US is often a poor fit for effective language learning. As for which languages are taught: Schools can't do it all. Some schools now partner with (or at least award credit for) community-based instruction in world languages. In a city like Seattle, that could open some pretty fabulous opportunities.

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