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High Schoolers Might Code Rather Than Speak French

But proponents of foreign language schooling aren’t pleased

(Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Computer programming is going mainstream. The signs: robot toys now teach kids to code, and the President himself has even written a single line of JavaScript. And there's a good reason to make sure more young people learn to code: the field that needs more programmers—and more diversity. Some states are jumping at this idea, and have changed requirements so that high schoolers can learn a computer language instead of French, Spanish or another foreign language, reports John Lauerman for Bloomberg.

He writes:

Proponents say such an approach will help students get jobs and businesses compete internationally. By 2020, companies across the U.S. will have 1.4 million job openings requiring computer-science expertise and just 400,000 college graduates to fill them, according to Code.org, a Seattle-based advocacy group for tech education.

Washington, Texas, and Georgia have passed or are considering bills to allow computer science to substitute for a foreign language. Kentucky Senate President Pro Tem David Givens tried to push through a provision but was met with stiff opposition from foreign language instructors, so he backed down, Lauerman reports.

The language teachers do have a point. "Should geometry be substituted for history?'' Richard Barton, co-founder and executive chairman of the Internet real-estate company Zillow Group, asked. "It's almost an apples-and-oranges sort of thing. They don't seem substitutable,'' he told Bloomberg. 

Already, the U.S. is largely monolingual, and this puts American’s behind the 56 percent of Europeans who are bilingual, writes Lauren Franklin, a senior in Sugar Land, Texas, in an opinion piece for the Daily Texan. She cites Arabic professor Mahmoud Al-Batal, who she says argues that "the inability to speak a foreign language makes it difficult for Americans to compete globally on a linguistic and cultural level." But another essay at the New York Times argues that we don’t have good measures of the bilingualism of Americans.

Either way, to truly be proficient in any language — whether it’s in lines of code or uttered out loud — students will need more than the few years of schooling in high school. The quest for language expertise needs to extend into practical use for it to stick. 

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