Foreign Language Requirements

The Kentucky Board of Education has proposed that all Kentucky High School students must learn to read, write, and speak a foreign language before they graduate. When I was a high school student at du Pont Manual high school, I thought I would never need to learn another foreign language. How wrong I was.

I now speak three languages, including English. In my last year of high school I went to Germany as a high school exchange student where I learned to speak German. In college, I returned for another year in Germany where I worked for Vermont-American and as an intern at the US Consulate General. After college, I came to Japan to teach English and to learn Japanese. I am now studying at a Japanese Graduate school as a Rotary World Peace Fellow. Unfortunately, I had to leave Kentucky to get this language preparation.

These opportunities came to me because there was a shortage of people with the required language abilities. These opportunities have benefited me, but they demonstrate the woeful preparation Kentuckians have in foreign languages. Kentuckians in particular are less prepared than most of the nation. No one expects anything more from Kentucky. People are shocked and surprised when I tell them I am from Kentucky – they have never met someone from Kentucky who can not only speak several languages, but who also does not have a strong accent.

I can attest that I have benefited from learning foreign languages. It not only allowed me to learn those languages, but also gain a strong background in my own language. When I traveled abroad I learned to see my own country and state from a new perspective. I came to love my home even more after I went abroad. I was able to do this because my parents and my teachers believed in me and encouraged me to do it. The leaders of Kentucky should do no less for all of our students. If we expect mediocrity we can only expect to mediocre.

I think it would be extremely wise for Kentucky to require its students to learn foreign languages. The world is flat, and this is necessary for the success of our youth in the future. To do this now would put Kentucky and its students at the forefront of the nation rather than being 47th or 48th. No one bets on a losing horse!

There is nothing more valuable than our human resources, and this is one of the best ways we can develop what we have into an amazing asset for the future. It may not be easy at times, but I think Kentucky will be far better off if the Board of Education elects to require foreign language mastery in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

(Published by the Courier-Journal, letters to the Editor, November 6, 2005)

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