It’s time to register for your next semester’s classes in high school. You have to choose math, science, electives, and a foreign language. You see that there are a few options for language, including Spanish, French, or German. Hmm… Other schools might offer ASL (American Sign Language), Russian, or Japanese. All of these seem interesting enough, but you hadn’t pre-planned which one you would try. Without thinking too hard, you check a box next to the teacher your friend mentioned last week.
However, when given the choice, would you switch languages later? Does one language make more sense for your intended career path than another? Will your choice of language(s) affect your college admissions chances later down the line? These are all valid questions that can factor into your decision of which languages—and how long to take them.
Let’s dig deeper into how foreign languages in high school really work.
Why Study Foreign Languages
The study of foreign languages (in the United States, this means languages other than English) has a long-held precedent. After all, studying other languages increase the human capacity for communication and global interaction, both of which are valuable assets in today’s rapidly evolving world. In fact, most high schools and colleges have some kind of foreign language requirement for all students in order to graduate or apply.
For students who are already bilingual (or trilingual, or more)—congratulations, first of all, on your hard work and adaptability! You may be able to test into a more advanced level of the language you already speak at home—or potentially pursue independent study if your language isn’t widely offered. Otherwise, you can select a new language to take alongside your existing knowledge. Check with your school’s guidance counselor to be sure of your options.
How to Choose a Foreign Language in High School
There are plenty of great reasons why studying linguistics and expanding our dictionary is helpful. They vary from employability to cultural awareness to problem-solving. What’s more, it can open up doors for study-abroad programs in college and beyond.
However, as a high school student, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all the choices on the table. What do colleges think about the foreign language requirement? Is one language more beneficial than another?
First, Consider Your Transcript.
Research Team advice: “Unless you are planning on applying to a major or program which requires the understanding of multiple languages, you should focus on mastering one. It’s fine to study other languages on your own time, but I would say it’s better to really focus on understanding and specializing in one language. [For ex: I would say taking 4 years of 1 language is more valuable than 2 years of 2 languages, or a 3 and 1 combination.]”
When planning ahead, consider the perspective of selective colleges, too: “The most competitive colleges recommend and expect students to take a foreign language in each of their four years of high school or until they exhaust the available curriculum available. The bottom line, the more foreign language, the more attractive a student is in the college application pool.” So, your choice matters.
That Includes Grade Point Average!
Further, you’ll want to choose a language that challenges you appropriately. While you want to push yourself and learn something new, you’ll want to avoid sacrificing your GPA! Choose a language that you will enjoy learning and feel successful in.
Thirdly, Consider Future Education/Career Goals.
Research Team advice: “[Specialization and focus] could also lead you to great extracurriculars. I’d recommend getting involved in something in your local community that has to do with the language you study. Colleges really like to see students take all classes offered for a single foreign language at their school.”
Does your future career involve a certain demographic of people with whom you’ll need to communicate? Are you planning to work in a particular location or a locationally-based industry in your job? These factors can reveal one language as a wise choice to help your future self.
Follow What Interests You Most.
Research Team advice: Most of all, “I don’t believe colleges prefer any combination of language experience in particular. If anything, colleges want to see consistency and passion in what students do.”
When it comes down to it, the actual language you choose shouldn’t impact your admissions chances. Even switching your pathway partway through the year isn’t the end of the world. In the end, choose the language that you will want to study—naturally, you’ll be more likely to score well and succeed.
Ask for Help.
No matter which language you choose, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you wait too long, the curriculum will become more and more complex, and it will become harder and harder to catch up! That can mean tutoring or extra studying if you struggling with the material. It can also mean asking questions during or after class to clarify concepts you don’t understand.
Another great tactic for language learning in particular is study groups. Because you typically need to practice conversation and listening skills, working with your peers to review class material on a regular basis will help keep you ahead of the curve. What’s more, making a commitment to work with a peer will hold you more accountable for doing it.
When it comes to questions like which foreign language to take, asking for help can also look like talking to a college guidance counselor throughout your time in high school. Beginning to strategize for your future as soon as possible means you’ll be on the right track when the time comes. Whether you already know where you want to go, or are simply looking for support while exploring your interests, independent counselors like the community at Empowerly can help you make the best decisions for you.