There have been numerous studies done on the benefits of learning a second language at an early age. In the United States, however, learning a second language is not required until high school. Many people have written arguments to include foreign language classes to be incorporated in primary schools, which I completely agree with, but today I write to emphasize the importance of language-choice.
I am in my second year of teaching at the high school level. I have so many kids who come into my classroom and tell me that they would have rather taken Japanese or Russian or American Sign Language, etc. When I ask why, they usually tell me that their parents think Spanish is more useful. That is hard to argue with when you live in San Diego (or in California in general). However, I have noticed that students who were more inclined to learn a different language, but weren’t given the opportunity to explore it, tend to fall behind. They do not remember as many verb conjugations or vocabulary words or they are just entirely disenchanted. I had a student who was very much into anime and Japanese culture. I asked him why he was not taking Japanese since we have a Japanese teacher on campus. He was told that he would not have done well in Japanese because it is a “hard” language and he already has some learning difficulties. Spanish was deemed the easier and more useful language and that’s how he ended up in my class.
It would have been far better for him to take Japanese. He did not do well in my class because of his complete lack of interest. He was not fascinated by Latin American culture, but by Eastern Asian culture. Based on my experience, I have seen that students who are given the option to explore the elective of their choice, retain more information and tend to get higher grades.
I understand that multiple languages are not always offered at the high school level, so this may not be possible for you. However, if your child is truly committed to a particular language or culture, I encourage you to look into classes at a community college. Students in high school can take community college classes for high school credit and they offer far more languages than high schools. At San Diego Community College alone, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Russian are offered. With most classes taking place completely online now, this is a feasible option! And parents who do have language choice at their middle or high school, I urge you to let your kids decide which language they would like to learn. In doing so, you will show them that they are trusted to succeed. Their active choice will guarantee their commitment to the subject because they will feel empowered and encouraged in their studies.