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Extra Credit: A Proposal for Restructuring Language Classes

Dear Extra Credit:

I could not agree more with Cassandra Rosado ["Proper Grammar Is Not a Prerequisite for AP English," March 12] about not needing a foreign language class in high school. My son is in Spanish 2 and has never had an aptitude for languages. He spends more time at home doing Spanish homework than he spends on all of his other classes combined. How about offering a conversational language course of one year that would meet the foreign language requirement? Currently they spend a great deal of time writing and reading in Spanish, two things that I certainly do not see him doing in the real world.
Stephen McHale

Your idea has potential, but such a course requires just as much concentration as a reading and writing class, and maybe even more during class time.

--Jay Mathews

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | April 30, 2009; 1:01 AM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  | Tags:  language classes  
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Next: Extra Credit: The Case for Stronger Foreign Language Requirements


May I suggest Latin to the young man struggling w/Spanish. It is often all the exceptions that drive new language learners crazy; they can't seem to "sense" when they occur. Latin, or even beginning German classes would be much easier than Spanish, French, or English. Far fewer exceptions.

On the other hand, reading or writing in another language will come up more for him than his mother thinks, as we move to a more globalized, albeit mostly English, world.

Posted by: Lizz1 | April 30, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

As an intellectual challenge, studying a foreign language in high school, or even in grade school, may have value (like calc. for the vast majority who will never again use it). But a language must be used for most people to retain it. For my daughter, two years of middle school Spanish were almost completely forgotten by second semester high school, and three years of French in high school are almost completely erased after one year of college.

We don't (yet) use a foreign language other than in a class in this country (with the likely exception of Spanish for the upper middle class, especially in our Western states). The this spend "learning" a bit of the language is thus lost to other pursuits which might be used later in an academic career.

For those who will work abroad or extensively with others with a first language other than English, Berlitz or Rosetta Stone prior to or coincident with immersion may be useful. But the forgotten four or five years of a second language in K-12? No value other than in the struggle.

Posted by: mct210 | May 3, 2009 7:55 AM | Report abuse

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