On Language Requirements

I can remember the first suggestions of Computer Science classes as substitutes for World Language requirements as early as 2014, but the idea has recently gained momentum in some states.  Specifically in Virginia, where ACTFL itself is based, the state legislature is reviewing a bill which would allow high school students to substitute computer coding courses for any foreign language course.  You can follow the progress of bill HB 443, which has been approved by the House and is now in Senate review, HERE.

First of all, Computer Science is not comparable to language and culture in any meaningful way when considering the student learning objectives that introduced language learning as a requirement for high school graduation.  It is true that there are programming languages within the field of Computer Science, but there are broader problems with the idea of substituting Computer Science courses with World Language courses, which have been documented in many forums by many different people from many different fields of study.

As World Language teachers, we know that teaching language is not just the rules and language system, but also the cultural uniquenesses that come with the various communities associated with those languages.  Again, we would be remiss to dismiss the programming languages that exist, but these language systems cannot prepare students to meet specific goals and learning objectives in the same way as World Language study.

A vocabulary of about 100 “words” cannot compare with an endless system of words and phrases that can be combined and recombined to express complex ideas and opinions – but only after one has studied the idiomatic and cultural uses of those words.  There is no cultural component that comes along with the study of computer programming, and while a useful skill and certainly a profitable one in today’s society, programming abilities will not prepare a student to visit a foreign country or help teach empathy towards those who may not know English as their first language.

This debate is not new nor is it over, but as it has now moved to the forefront of our discussion of the future of language study in the current education system, I invite you to consider how we as language instructors can convey the important of language and culture study to those looking to eliminate it.

Many of us are teaching language that are struggling to survive in today’s STEM focused education system.  Some of us even teach in places where language requirements have been drastically reduced or abolished all together.  If this is a topic that interests you, please contact your language specific teaching organization (AATI, AATG, AATF, etc.) and also get in touch with your ACTFL representatives to help craft a unified, informed, and effective response to the attach on World Language and Culture instruction.

Substituting Computer Science for World Languages is a Bad Policy by Noah Geisel

Computer Science is Not a Foreign Language by Amy Hirotaka, Code.org


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