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Guest opinion: Why cutting foreign languages in schools is a mistake

BY GUEST OPINION | APRIL 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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Recently, the Iowa City School District announced its plans to make budget cuts to avoid going into deficit spending for the next fiscal year. Many programs, classes, and educational activities will be affected by this decision, including the cutting of German as a foreign language for all grades, delaying the start of the opportunity to learn French or Spanish in junior high, delaying the opportunity to start playing an orchestra instrument from fourth to fifth grade, cutting the seventh-grade football program, cutting many teaching positions, sizing down on the availability of who can use a bus to get to school, no more general music offerings in junior high, and an increase in class sizes. Although all of these topics are important to our education, scaling back the availability of foreign languages offered and when they are offered is not acceptable.

I am a German student at City High with a little sister going into seventh grade next year. German is close to my heart, and it really hits home that my sister, along with countless other students, will not have the opportunity to explore this language and culture as I have. There are many reasons German is beneficial to my education, along with every other student’s education. Some reasons: it gives people the option to explore a language other than Spanish, it helps students learn proper English grammar through German, it provides a cultural experience that students would otherwise not receive, knowing German can help students get jobs because Germany is a major world player, our German sister schools will lose a partner, and learning at an early age will help students learn the language better.

It is true that German class sizes are smaller than Spanish class sizes. However, this is because students who choose to take German are motivated to take the language as well as get an experience other than Spanish. Students such as me are interested in learning something different from what most people take as a foreign language. Having this option is important to our students, because it allows people to pick what’s best for them. Otherwise, we might as well be another number taking a class we don’t actually enjoy.

Learning German, as well as other foreign languages, allows students to better understand the English language. When learning a new language sentence, diagramming is a must. With that, people learn different grammatical rules that also apply to English. For example, through German, they learn when to use who rather than whom. Additionally, many words in German translate into English having a similar word. This allows for further understanding of the English language.

Learning German isn’t only important to better to understand English, it will also help students in their careers. Germany has the No. 1 economy in Europe, and there are more German speakers than any other language in the European Union. Additionally, students with a foreign language on their résumé are more likely to get a job than somebody else with the same qualifications who don’t know a foreign language. Knowing a foreign language, especially German, will help our students be more competitive in the job market as well as learning about a new culture. No other class offered in our schools exposes our youth to other cultures in the same way that our foreign language classes do.

Last but not least, ending the German program in the School District, along with delaying when kids start to learn French or Spanish, is inhibiting the potential that our students have the ability to achieve. We have all read the countless articles and studies that prove how starting to learn a language at a young age will lead to a child retaining the language better. We clearly see this with our European counterparts, who expose their students to foreign-language studies as early as elementary school. Ultimately, cutting our German program completely and delaying the start of studying French or Spanish will hinder the growth in education that our community needs. I think it is extremely important that we as a community link arms with one another and express to the district why these changes in our foreign language programs are not acceptable. If we all write letters to the School Board and superintendent as well as attend the meeting on Tuesday, our voices should be heard.

Lilly Brown is a junior at Iowa City High School.


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