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Advice on which foreign language to take in high school?

katie443katie443 Posts: 55Registered User Junior Member
edited April 2011 in Parent Cafe
Hi everyone, just wanted to get people's opinions on this.


My youngest dd will be starting high school in the fall. She is going to a Catholic high school that offers French, Spanish, and Italian.

Are there any compelling reasons to choose one over the other, in your opinion?

She mentioned she is thinking of taking Italian. Our last name is Italian, as my father in law was Italian, but mother in law isn't, not really a heavy Italian cultural influence in the family. I think it may be because one sibling took French and one took Spanish.

Spanish is offered up to the AP level, but I believe Italian only has regular and honors classes. That isn't an issue, regular or honors level is fine.

My older two had language requirements in college-depending on where they tested in ability. One dd transferred in college credits in Spanish and only had to take a semester of Spanish and fulfilled her requirement. The dd that took French in high school switched to Spanish in college so had to take two or three semesters to meet the proficiency. I would think most colleges have language requirements, is that correct?

Any ideas/opinions, or am I overthinking this? (older two dds are already in college, I guess I need something to worry about!)
Thanks!
Post edited by katie443 on
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Replies to: Advice on which foreign language to take in high school?

  • maritemarite Posts: 21,586Registered User Senior Member
    Whichever language your D likes best.
    If she is planning to have a lot of interaction with clients, Spanish may be the most useful in this country. If she wants to go to grad school in math, many programs require either French, German or Russian (though some may decide to drop the requirement by the time she would get there).
  • bluebayoubluebayou Posts: 20,989Registered User Senior Member
    No, not over thinking it. If you HS only offers Euro languages, it doesn't much matter. Long-term career-wise, Chinese is the no-brainer. Out west, Spanish is a plus. Spanish is also a plus for some community volunteer activities, and I've even heard that can be a tie-breaker for med school admissions.
  • KelownaKelowna Posts: 2,666Registered User Senior Member
    I would second Marite's suggestion and take the language that your daughter likes best.
    But do look at the quality of instruction and how she can progress in each one at the school. I understand that while not required, all four years of the same language are beneficial when it comes to admissions to some top notch schools.
    I have one kid that could not care less about languages. As a freshman he is in Spanish 3, on track to do AP Spanish as a Junior. Will probably have to take Spanish at the Univeristy for his last year of HS.
    On the other hand I have a dughter, currently in 7th grade, who absolutely loves langauages. She is taking Spanish at her middle school as well as has private instructions in conversational Spanish and basic Mandarin. She would like to start French when she gets to HS. So, in order for her to complete AP French we are thinking of involving her in some French classes when she is in 8th grade so she would be able to jump right into French 2 when she gets to HS.
    After that is acomplished, she still would like to learn Russian ;)
  • nngmmnngmm Posts: 5,708Registered User Senior Member
    I would find out which language has the best teachers at your HS. This can make all the difference wrt experience and level of proficiency at graduation.
    Alternatively, just let her take whatever she likes best. If she will eventually study abroad in Italy, Italian sure will come in handy ;)...
  • mathmommathmom Posts: 22,354Registered User Senior Member
    I speak French and German fluently, and used to know a little Italian, but really, really wish I could speak Spanish since I work with a lot of Hispanic clients. (Even in the NYC burbs it's very useful.) That said, I'd advise my kid to take the language with the best teachers. Once you learn one romance language it's easy to add on others.

    Italy of course, is a great place to visit and very useful if you go into art history.
  • katie443katie443 Posts: 55Registered User Junior Member
    That's a good idea about looking at the teachers who teach the different languages. My other dd only graduated last year so I will try to get the scoop from her...
  • ConsolationConsolation Posts: 13,207Registered User Senior Member
    If she may wish to learn more than one Romance language eventually, it is usually considered significantly easier to go from French to Spanish than the reverse.

    In my personal experience, beginning Spanish as an adult, having had French in school, was surprisingly easy.

    My kid is a language lover, like Kelowna's D. He started with French via some group classes outside of school in about 3rd grade, was in French 2 at the HS as an 8th grader, and skipped directly into Spanish 2 as a HS freshman after doing a little summer study with a student tutor. In college he started Russian.
  • momlovemomlove Posts: 497Registered User Member
    One more thing to consider. I was a 5th child and a 3rd daughter. It may be important to your daughter to have something of her own, something her sisters didn't do. That may be a reason she would want to try something different, so that she can be successful in something they never did. Just a little way to distinguish herself. Sometimes older sisters can cast long shadows ;)
  • paying3tuitionspaying3tuitions Posts: 13,304Super Moderator Senior Member
    A few ideas here: French is currently spoken in more countries around the globe than any other language; Haiti and Canada come to mind immediately. Career futures that include world travel, business, diplomacy, International Relations might benefit from having French.

    If Italian is offered along with Latin within a Catholic school, that might be interesting linguisitcally, comparing the older to newer forms. The same crossover is there for the other Romance languages mentioned, but perhaps modern Italian, which grew from the Tuscan dialect of Latin, most resembles Latin. I don't know that (as I don't know Latin) but am curious to know.

    Sibling dynamics are interesting. Our elder 2 studied French as we were living then in Canada; youngest did a backstep to pick up Spanish because we'd returned to the U.S. when he had to choose. While both liked their French, they were enthused to see the youngest learn a different language, saying "someone among us should have Spanish." He attends college/works in Southern California now, so he uses it often, if clumsily.

    Some question whether the need for Spanish among clients will change generationally because their children are growing up bilingual in America. The immigrant generation always speaks its own language (German, Italian, Yiddish...) but 20 years later the children are bilingual; 40 years later it's gone.
    For the present, however, I've seen many cases where knowing Spanish gained the job in a deal-breaker way, or jobs are advertised with Spanish ability as "highly recommended."

    As an Art History major, I saw Italian as very useful while studying Italian art, but any other European language helps when studying any other body of art from another nation.

    If her last name is Italian, she might initially enjoy studying it for its familial roots. Motivation is key to learning, and if the Italian teacher is good, will maintain that motivation; otherwise, my guess is that initial spark would dry up quickly. CHecking for teacher strength is excellent advice by others above, IMO.
  • KelownaKelowna Posts: 2,666Registered User Senior Member
    Consolation - Incredible! Very similar kids.
    My DD is fluent it two languages as we do not speak English at home. Started Spanish in 3 rd grade. Now in 7th she is able to converse quite easily. She started Mandarin because one of her MS teachers is a native speaker and it progressed from an after school club to private lessons. Mandarin is very different but she enjoys it - those neuron pathway connections must be quite well developed :).
    What you are writing about your son's way into Spanish is exactly what we are planning for DD's French - no need to spend one school year on basics if you already know how to study foreign language and have a passion for it!
  • tokenadulttokenadult Posts: 17,473Super Moderator Senior Member
    French is currently spoken in more countries around the globe than any other language

    If this is, "French is spoken in more countries than the other languages the OP asked about," no problem. But English is surely the language "spoken in more countries around the globe than any other language," if that is what is at issue.

    I studied German in junior high, Russian in high school, Chinese (and a BUNCH of other languages) in college, and lived abroad in a Chinese-speaking country for two distinct three-year stays. Sure enough, my son as studied Chinese formally, and is now studying German--which feels really easy after studying Chinese. I have a relative who studied French up to a Ph.D. degree and learned several cognate languages by self-study. There are a lot of interesting languages to learn.

    My advice to the OP: respond to your child's preferences, possibly informed by what you know about teachers in the school, as other replies have already suggested.
  • CountingDownCountingDown Posts: 10,180Registered User Senior Member
    Both our kids' FL choices were dictated by what the school system offered at the middle school level when they started studying them. S1 did three years of Spanish and stopped so he could pursue other electives which interested him. Is now taking German in college because he'll need it for some of the math graduate programs he's considering.

    S2 did five years of Spanish (through AP/IB level) and uses it a lot in our ethnically diverse community. Plans to take Russian in college, which is more in line with his career interests, but also plans to keep up his Spanish.

    I'd let her make the call based on her interests and motivation. Agree that sometimes that younger sibs need to do something different, just for the sake of NOT being like an older sib (no matter how well the same choice might work for the younger one).
  • bclintonkbclintonk Posts: 6,439Registered User Senior Member
    In terms of usefulness across the board, it's got to be Spanish first, French second, Italian third. Spanish is by most estimates the world language with the second-most native speakers (after Mandarin) and the fourth most widely spoken as either a first or second language (after Mandarin, English, and Hindi/Urdu). French is pretty far down the list as a first language, but when you add in second-language speakers in Africa, parts of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, etc., it moves up to the 9th most widely spoken. Both French and Spanish are among the 6 official languages of the United Nations. Outside of Italy, Italian is spoken only in parts of Switzerland and parts of Somalia.

    Another consideration: if your kid wants to continue with the same language in college, you'll find French and Spanish available virtually everywhere. Lots of schools, especially small LACs, don't offer Italian (though even some very small LACs do).

    That said, I agree with the posters who say the quality of instruction and the kid's passion should be the overriding factors. Language study can be deadly if the teacher is ineffective or the student isn't motivated. With a good teacher and a motivated student, it can be great fun and highly rewarding.
  • SmithieandProudSmithieandProud Posts: 3,038Registered User Senior Member
    Actually bclintok, I would challenge that ranking. By number there are more Spanish speakers in the world (probably because many Spanish speaking countries ahve large populations, so like Mandarin, it has kind of an unfair advantage). But there are only 21 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language.

    There are 28 countries where French is the official language, PLUS there are 7 other countries where French is the predominant language but not spoken officially.

    Having four years of high school french, a couple years of college french, and a smattering of immersion exposure, I can say that French is an extremely useful language to know. They don't use the term "lingua franca" for no reason, in almost any city in any country in the world, you can count on finding a few French speakers even if there are no English speakers. French's hold as the language of diplomacy, of European courts, of colonialism, and of the United Nations remains very strong across the world.

    That being said, your daughter should take whatever is of interest to her. She may change her language pursuits in college anyway (I ended up dropping French for Arabic like a hot potato), she may just never be one to be fluent in a foreign language, but it's a good thing to study anyway. Learning to look at the world through the sounds of another culture is very beneficial.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Posts: 6,439Registered User Senior Member
    ^ Smithie, I'm certainly not saying French is unimportant and I agree with much of what you say . . . or some of it, anyway. My own D is taking French, plans to continue in college, loves it, and is doing quite well at it. I fully support that, and I'd rank French as easily one of the 6 or 8 most influential and door-opening languages in the world, along with English, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, and possibly Portuguese. But I'd have a hard time saying it's more important (whatever that means) than Spanish which is the first language of nearly 5 times as many people, many of them right here on our doorstep, or right here in our country.

    You may think the fact that Spanish is spoken in some countries with big populations gives it an "unfair advantage." I say those countries are just going to be a lot more influential than some of the numerous but in many cases really small countries that count French as an official language---in many of them, one of several official languages, in some of them spoken only by a small administrative and socioeconomic elite.

    I'll be honest here: until I looked it up right now, I didn't know that French was one of three official languages (along with English and Seychelles Creole) in the small Indian Ocean island state of Seychelles (pop. 84,000). And you know what? Now that I know, I'm not that impressed, and I guess if I ever need to travel to Seychelles, my English will do just fine, thanks. There are quite a few other countries not too dissimilar from that; in most places where French is an official language, outside of France itself, it's a minority language, often a relic of French or Belgian colonial administration, and definitely not the lagnuage of the people. In many of those countries, English is now also spoken, and may be well on its way toward displacing French as the lingua franca (a term that originally referred not to French, by the way, but to a derivative of Italian spoken as a second-language common vehicle of communication in the Arabic world, where dating back to the crusades all Europeans were known as "Franks"). Anyway, I think just counting countries where French is an official language is a bit misleading. The importance of French in the EU and in the UN is also questionable. Sure, if you don't know English, French will help enormously in those venues. If you have English, you just won't need French. I know the French still like to think theirs is the language of international diplomacy, but that's so 19th/early 20th century.

    No question, if you're going to do business or diplomacy in Africa, French beats Spanish easily. In the Americas, it's the opposite. By far the largest Spanish-speaking country is the one right on our doorstep, Mexico, which all by itself has roughly 50% more native speakers of Spanish than there are native (first-language) speakers of French in the entire world. It's a country with whom we have deep economic, cultural, diplomatic, legal, and historical entanglements, both positive and negative. We're actually the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking nation (as measured by the total number of speakers of the language), just edging out Spain. After that, all the major Spanish-speaking countries are right here in our hemisphere. That, it seems to me, counts for something.
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