Tennessee schools must prioritize foreign language learning

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  • Bilingualism leads to better academic success and more and better paid employment opportunities.
  • Karolina Prasad is director of foreign languages ​​at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute.

Many high school students in Tennessee can use a waiver that allows them to skip foreign language classes that are otherwise required to graduate.

As someone who has benefited from speaking multiple languages ​​and has seen others excel personally and professionally through language learning, it is very sad to realize that some young Tennesseans are entering adulthood and a professional career without having acquired at least some command of a foreign language, or without the experience of learning one.

Recent research shows that bilingualism leads both to better academic achievement and to more and better paid job opportunities; Looking at this body of research, we should elevate foreign language courses in high schools to the group of priority subjects, right next to STEM subjects, and add foreign language teaching to the curriculum earlier.

Instead, the message students in some schools get is that the foreign language is something like ballroom dancing – a fancy, impractical skill. That couldn’t be less true. Apart from actual language fluency, the process of learning a second language allows the human brain to develop analytical skills, it makes students smarter, more open-minded, teaches them to communicate better, to become better listeners, team players and leaders, and facilitates decision-making. manufacturing, as well as delays the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The sentiment expressed is that students who do not follow the university route have less need for a foreign language course simply because they do not need the credit. It is really wrong.

For students who are not aiming for university, high school is sometimes the last opportunity to acquire skills that are not easily acquired outside the school system, such as a foreign language. Moreover, by focusing only on technical preparation for employment, schools indirectly neglect interpersonal, communication and analytical skills, which will in fact decide the success or failure of the student not only in his first job, but throughout his career and personal life.

In fact, schools can help students prepare even better for the job market by ensuring that foreign language course content teaches practical, real-life language functions, such as making phone calls, discussing schedules and coordinate tasks. Indeed, a language course can be a great way to learn more about professional life and work tasks, if the program is well designed, expertly delivered and students are aware of the opportunities the course opens up for them. .

It’s critical that schools, school districts, and the state find ways to help teachers deliver effective and meaningful foreign language lessons that give students real, marketable skills throughout their careers.

Many language learners at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute, people from all walks of life, enroll in foreign language courses at the Institute precisely because they want to be more competitive in the job market or need a second language for their existing positions. Companies organize foreign language courses for their employees not only to facilitate the international activities of the company, but also to increase the potential of their employees in other areas, such as leadership and communication skills.

We at TFLI are proud and ready to provide these services, but as a community we are all missing a golden opportunity when we do not provide foreign language skills through the school system, forcing individuals and businesses to address this skills gap at a higher level. costs.

Karolina Prasad is director of foreign languages ​​at the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute.

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