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Extra Credit: The Case for Stronger Foreign Language Requirements

Dear Extra Credit:
I'm not sure what the local high school foreign language requirements are, but I'd be willing to bet they're nowhere near stiff enough. We need more foreign language speakers, of more languages, and we need them badly. Being able to chat with an English-speaking European or Japanese on the Internet (because they know English) is not a substitute for being able to conduct business, negotiate deals or treaties, and, yes, sometimes eavesdrop on people who are plotting to harm Americans (or anyone else).
The problem with foreign language instruction in general in the United States is that we wait until high school to start it. Children have a greater facility for language acquisition in the early years; in fact, while they are acquiring their first language. European children learn two or three languages, including English, pretty much simultaneously from the first grade forward, which might be why they can chat on the Internet in English as well as their own languages and sometimes others.
Lynda Meyers
Arlington County

Right. But as we both know, foreign languages can still be acquired in later years without pain, if taught well.

--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; 3:07 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  | Tags:  foreign languages  
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