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Where Foreign Languages in High School Fall Short

July 10, 2012

After taking a foreign language in high school for three years in a row, I realized that there are many reasons why students fail to actually learn and utilize the language they’re learning in the classroom. Of course, these may vary depending on everyone’s personal and external circumstances, but let’s keep it general.

The students don’t get taught that the language they’re learning is a living and breathing language

I don’t blame the kids – this happens with me when I self-study Korean. Sometimes I forget that Korean is a real language and not just a ‘silent’ and secret language that I learn from textbooks and the internet. The real magic happens when you speak with other people that speak the language. The students don’t know that by learning that language, they are actually able to communicate and and connect with people from a different part of the world while gaining new perspectives and expanding their boundaries and minds literally. It really does make you feel connected to people around the earth when you speak with someone else in a completely different language.

Where is the motivation and inspiration?

After taking French for 3 years in high school, I noticed that my peers and myself weren’t generally to excited to study the language – because the of the lack of motivation. None of had the motivation nor inspiration to learn the French language so we didn’t excel… and we really didn’t want to! Motivation is what drives us to learn and advance ourselves. Find something that motivates you. Maybe it’s the food. The music. Or maybe you just enjoy the sound of the language.

Too much class work not enough involvment.

Sure grammar exercises and reading passages are necessary, but why not actually use the language (And no. Oral exams don’t count). For example, if classrooms allow students to communicate with each other for maybe 5 minutes with free talk as a warmup, the students will most likely share a few laughs and exercise their brain. Classroom work alone makes students bored and unmotivated to study the language.

More language options for students

The only foreign language elective my old high school offered were: French, Spanish, German, and Latin. I hate to say it, but these European languages alone really don’t encourage “global advancement” – especially with other countries such as China and India advancing at a rapid pace. Of course, I do realize it’s not always possible for high schools to offer more languages, but there is always a way to give students options! For example, my old high school actually allowed students to take courses in other institutions such as the local community college or even the state university where more languages were offered.

So what can you do if you’re stuck with a poorly ran foreign language class?

  • Immerse YOURSELF in the language/culture and don’t depend on the classroom. Expose yourself to the culture whether it’s the food, music, TV shows… anything!
  • Find what makes you motivated, you probably won’t find it in the classroom so take it upon yourself to do so.
  • Meet a fellow learner or native speaker. That way, you can see for yourself that REAL people actually speak the language and it’s not just a secret textbook language. It really is magical, trust me. There are many programs and groups at colleges offer to help students with their foreign language learning. Meet someone in your classroom that is equally interested in the foreign language that you speak to during lunch!
  • Don’t rely on the class homework alone to help you with studying the language. That alone won’t get you anywhere! Try watching videos without subtitles to get your ears trained to the language for instance.
  • Make sure to choose a language you want to learn. Do some research before your start and spend your semesters studying. There are always more places to take classes than just your high school.
  • Make studying fun! Don’t make studying chore! For example, listen to the music in the language while you are studying. Study when you’re want to, don’t force yourself.
  • This sounds silly, but remind yourself why you are learning the language. And don’t say something like “I need the credit hours” because that will only discourage you from studying it further.
  • Treat the classroom as a basis for your studies… not your only resource.
  • Express your interest in the language to your teacher. Yes, your teacher. They may be able to extend homework dates, help you with learning slang, polish your accent etc. because they know you are genuinely interested in actually mastering the language.

Anyways, there are many more ways to make your foreign language class fun and exciting while learning. These methods worked for me, so I hope they will do the same for you. Please feel free to expand on anything I wrote and any experiences in your classrooms you would like to share 🙂

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 11:34 am

    I will come and read the detail tomorrow. But for me, it’s true in that I learned German in high school for 3 years and now after 6 month passes, I just remember Hello or Guten Tag!

  2. July 11, 2012 3:24 pm

    I completely agree. There are many if any activities at all for students to engage in what they’re earning. It makes it harder to stay focused and absorb what they’re being taught. Great post! (

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