Is this true -- 4 years of foreign language in high school?

I feel stupid asking a question about my elementary schooler here, but I know you’ll know the answer.

My 5th grader, who will start public middle school in the fall, wants to take Spanish 1, which is an option at his school.

Another parent has told me that if he does this, he’ll “run out of Spanish” in high school since it only goes to Spanish VI, AP Spanish Lit. She says that selective colleges expect students to have taken 4 years of the same foreign language in high school, and so he’ll be marked down and won’t get it, for stopping after 3 years.

This makes no sense to me, that taking an advanced course would hurt you in that way, or that a kid would be penalized for a decision his mom made when he was 10. Is there any truth to this?

I know that one can do dual enrollment at the community college, and take more advanced Spanish there, but let’s assume my kid has some legit reason he doesn’t want to do that. Is stopping Spanish after 11th grade because you took the highest course offered really a problem?

She’s wrong. Colleges that request 3-4 years mean reaching level 3 or 4. While stopping after freshman year may be a problem for some colleges, a grand total of zero colleges will have an issue stopping after junior year if level 4 has been completed. And a grand total of zero colleges expect a student to continue if they have exhausted their school’s offerings through level 4 or beyond.

Indeed, there is no expectation to take AP Spanish Lit if they don’t want and have completed AP Spanish Language. AP Spanish Lit is really for the diehards - heritage speakers and/or potential Spanish or Comp Lit majors. From experience, I will tell you that the required (by the CB) reading list is extensive and makes AP English Lit look like Fun with Dick and Jane.

Of course, a student can take AP Spanish Lit or look at community colleges, or start a new language if they desire. But none is obligatory from an admissions perspective.


That’s silly. First of all, high-school-level foreign language and math classes taken in middle school will be noted on his high school transcript anyway. And secondly, 3 years of a language including two AP years is plenty. If there is any college in America that would penalize him for this (which I doubt), he doesn’t need to go there.

Say a prayer for that parent’s child, and carry on with your plan. Starting a foreign language as young as possible can only be a good thing.


I’m not sure that they do list them in our particular district, but surely colleges are smart enough to realize a freshman taking Spanish IV isn’t doing so because they were too lazy to take I, II and III. That somewhere that content was covered.

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Yes, exactly. It’s true that there could be native speakers who would place ahead, and a college might not be satisfied with such a student taking only the most advanced classes in a language they already knew. But it will be evident that this isn’t the case here.


I think if he maxes out the offerings, that is different than stopping because he didn’t want to do it anymore. If he takes an AP class as a junior and does well on the exam, that would be ok.

Everything is viewed in terms of what your school offers. Where I am, for example, foreign language starts in MS (takes 2 years to cover one year of HS level one) and satisfies the state requirement for graduation. Some kids stop there. We don’t have AP foreign languages but some students through dual enrollment complete a 100-level college class in 10th grade and 200-level classes in both jr and sr years. D20 picked right up with 300-level classes in college and is on her way to an easy minor.


You’re lucky that you have a child who wants to attempt an academic course in “foreign language”, and he is lucky to have a mother who is fostering his interests.

Keep being a great Mom and I agree with both @skieurope and @aquapt that the other parent is in error. The child gets to take more elective classes, in high school, after meeting the college requirements.


@aquapt My friend who told me this does have a bilingual home. So, maybe she was given advice specific to her situation.

My kid has learned some Spanish at his elementary school where it was a “special”, and he uses it to talk to some of our family friends, which is what gives him the confidence, but he is far from a native speaker.

@aunt_bea I do consider myself lucky to have him, but to be honest, he’s the kind of kid who gets in trouble for talking too much in class, so I think he likes the part of the day where the teachers get excited if you talk.


It’s totally fine. It may be a Spanish 1a in 6th and Spanish 1b class in 7th grade. They offered that in my D22’s 6th grade. She had already had many years of Spanish “specials” throughout elementary school and was in Spanish 1a with a bunch of middle schoolers who had never had Spanish at all before (couldn’t say Hola, etc). She ended up bumping up to High School Spanish 1 (her school was mixed middle and high school) and was in high school Spanish 1 with a bunch of 9th, 10th & 11th graders. She ended up taking Spanish 2 in 7th and then really didn’t like being in class with the high schoolers so asked to skip Spanish 3 honors which they tried to put her in for 8th grade. She ended up taking Spanish 3 in 10th grade due to some scheduling conflicts. It all shows up in Power School as high school classes.

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They offer both the 1A/1B choice and the full speed class. I would normally pick 1A, because a high school class for a sixth grader seems like a lot, but he’s got pretty decent Spanish for a kid who isn’t from a Spanish speaking family so we think he can handle the full speed.

They offer 1, 2, 3 at the middle school.


We are a bilingual household and even though I am a native speaker, my 3 children wanted to learn the actual “book” Spanish (grammar and literature) and took 4 years (total).

They started their “formal” Spanish in 8th grade, such that, they finished before senior year and were able to take other AP classes.

These studies helped my middle daughter who just graduated from her med/prof school program as she provided care for the bilingual and monolingual Spanish patients at her hospital during Covid.


Colleges are looking for level of interest, investment, dedication, etc. to get through X years/level X of a language. Four is the upper edge of what I’ve seen as recommended.

I’ve seen no evidence that they care when this happens. Six years of Spanish starting in 5th grade will be way, way more than any school will expect. Five is probably plenty, and four for all but the most demanding (pre-HS is occasionally considered less than a full year equivalent).

But yes, a native speaker/someone who grew up with a language and tested for credit at level 4, or somehow scammed their school system into letting them take four years, starting at level one, of a language on which they were raised will not impress an AO.


Hello, recent high school graduate here. I took Spanish 1 and 2 in middle school and it is now on my high school transcript because it is needed for me to graduate. So I got my graduation requirements out of the way in middle school. And I took spanish 3 and 4 when I was in high school. So my admissions offices saw all 4 years of my Spanish classes.

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You’d also have the option of doing a different language in hs if he does complete all the Spanish classes. Don’t worry about running out of language classes.


You are almost certainly right- just be watchful. The HS course grades will be reported for college apps, so if full speed doesn’t go well, have a plan to transition to the a/b option before any real grade damage is done. We have seen a few people on CC who have rued having to carry weak grades in advanced classes from MS into their HS gpa.

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Our district will let you drop a HS class taken in middle school until the day before the final or something like that, or repeat it in middle school or HS and have the first grade erased.

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Super! nice safety net :slight_smile:

Some high schools (colleges also) have courses for heritage speakers who speak and listen well, but need to work on their reading and writing. For such heritage speakers, it means having to take fewer courses to reach AP (or whatever desired) level, while not looking like they are grade-grubbing for easy A grades in the regular courses in that language.


While true, and great where they exist, IME the schools which offer them are in the distinct minority. Regardless, not applicable to the OP, as kid is not a heritage speaker.

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Agree with @ucbalumnus
@RichInPitt I would hope that this wasn’t a dig at my comment.
Bilingual household = Caucasian Welsh/English father and Tex-Mex. mother.

Heritage speakers in Spanish classes don’t have it as “easy” as purported. It’ is definitely not an “easy A”. If anything, the teachers are harder on them and tell them so the first day of classes. It’s unfamiliar work and it was the first of several B/B- grades. Scamming the system, no. Grade-grubbing, definitely not.

These heritage students can speak the language, but they don’t know why the grammar is the way that it is, so they have a hard time writing it, conjugating the verbs, and translating the literature, especially the vocabulary and the style of written language.

The literature is made even more difficult because the publications are derived from Spain, South America and Caribbean resources. It’s like another AP class.

  • Interpreting Catalan (mixes of Latin, French & Spanish) was difficult.
  • The books are unfamiliar.
  • It’s not regional Spanish.

Conjugation is a difficult concept for them because they have to reverse what was said and try to figure out why it is conjugated in that manner. As a regional speaker, I had difficulty with trying to help out with homework, translations and course requirements.

Taking a few Spanish classes weren’t completed to impress the AO’s-they took it for themselves because they couldn’t write their language as “heritage speakers”. The high school GPA’s, AP classes, SAT’s, athletics and EC’s, however, did impress the elite AO’s when admissions time came around.