Learn a foreign language – like Java

Every year I have students that wonder if they should take more than two years of foreign language in high school. I wish I could say take zero years. In this day of countless apps for language translation, it is absurd to require a foreign language. Yes, it was originally put in place for good reasons: ability to communicate with people whose language is other than English, to enable our children to work anywhere in the world and to build sensitivity and therefore broaden perspectives. But now with apps like the Google Translate app that can even translate snapshots of text, learning a foreign language does not seem as necessary.

Additionally, foreign language cannot be really “learned” in two years of high school. In my experience with my students, most students are not able to converse. Okemos High School does a fantastic job of teaching foreign languages. Yet, two years is not enough to really communicate with a native speaker. It gives students basic tools but after two years, the language is lost if students do not get more practice. So the two years of foreign language learning is pretty much a waste for most. Factor in those that have zero interest in learning the language.

Instead of Spanish or German or French language, schools should offer at least one year-long course to learn some of the most popular programming languages: Python, Java and C and, on the lighter side, SQL. A very large number of my students major in engineering and computer science. In high school, they can only take AP Computer Science as a way to prepare. AP Comp. Sci. teaches Java, but not as the main course. Making Java or C or Python the main course, students will be much better prepared for engineering or computer science. Keep this course optional since many students have no interest in programming. However, even those that have no interest in programming as a career, they will at some point need to at least write queries.

Hopefully the foreign language requirement will soon be a thing of the past. This will leave students time to enroll in something they truly care about.