Our globe continues to shrink as modern telecommunications allow mass messages to millions around the world instantaneously. Between the leadership of the United States in technology and its position as a world superpower, English has become the international language. Yet with rapid communications, sensitivity to other nations and cultures from around the world becomes ever more important.
The Ameri-centric view of the world in the schools of the United States remains mired in our old model that high schools offer four years of a single foreign language--or maybe two or three languages. At the same time, the students in our schools are making online friends around the world. Social networks allow students to connect world-wide while video chatting lets our internationally-savvy students meet face-to-face. The future could have U.S. students employed in any number of countries involved in international commerce.
Oblivious to these changes, states continue to require schools to offer one foreign language in high school, and colleges follow along by requiring a minimum of two years of a single high school foreign language for college admission.
Schools for the 21st Century need quality online instruction in foreign languages. Instead of a single foreign language high schools should offer a menu of languages, e.g., Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, and Mandarin. The completely automated coursework needs to become interactive and supported by native speakers available online. Rather than a teacher in a classroom, schools should provide a high-tech language lab, preferably (but not necessarily) staffed by a certified teacher. Classes and student progress should be regularly monitored by an adult, but students should be allowed to progress at their own pace and potentially complete more coursework than is currently possible with our existing paradigm. With the technology available to today's students this can be a reality now. We need to make our schools as relevant as students are finding in their social networks online.
So what will happen to all the foreign language teachers currently employed in America's high school? Let us all move them into the elementary where brain research tells us children are acquiring their language skills. A child who learns a language from a native speaker by third grade will have a lifetime ability to speak that language without an accent. We need to rethink and change the delivery of foreign language in America's schools.