A Step Back For Learning Languages

Words of one syllable department.

“A Step Back For Learning Languages” is the headline on Jim Dwyer’s “About New York” column in the NYT (on-line May 31, in hard copy June 1). Dwyer reports that

Next week, students across the state will take Regents exams in foreign languages for the last time, as the state is dropping its tests in Spanish, French and Italian.

This will save $700,000 a year, or to put it another way, roughly the cost of policing a homestand at one of the baseball stadiums.

Do not be confused, dear citizens and students: the state still believes that it is important to learn foreign languages and culture before graduation.

Just not $700,000 important.

“With these exams, we actually tested our students’ skills at navigating through conversations,” said John Carlino, who teaches high school German, which was eliminated last year from the Regents testing scheme, along with Hebrew and Latin.

At a time when it seems as if new tests are being devised every week, it is almost quaint to see the state dropping one series of them. Students will still need foreign language for the advanced Regents diploma, but it will be up to each school district to figure out how to rate their proficiency.

“If they don’t have the money to print the exams, will the state have the money to check on what the districts are testing?” asked Mr. Carlino, who is also the executive director of the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.

To pass the current Regents exams, students have to show that they can carry on a conversation, grasp what they are being told and also make themselves understood. They also have to show that they understand the cultures of the places where the languages are spoken. It is not just a matter of filling in the circles on a multiple-choice test.

We don’t need foreign languages. We have English.

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