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U.S., Other Nations Compared on Study of Languages

December 06, 1987|From Associated Press

American schools are teaching a greater number of children more foreign languages than ever before, but the study of more than one language, is a fact of life in most other developed nations. Here is a comparison of what some other countries require of their students:

FRANCE--Language study typically begins in sixth grade. To graduate from a French lycee , the equivalent of an American high school, students must take two foreign languages, one for six years, the other for four years. This is also required for university admission.

At the secondary level, 84% of all students study English.

"English has become the international language of diplomacy, business, banking and communications, and France is behind other countries like Germany and Holland, where virtually all educated people speak English," said Ellen Lampert of the French American Center of Provence in Avignon.

PHILIPPINES--Pilipino, a Malay language based on the Tagalog dialect, and English are this Pacific nation's two official tongues. Nearly all educated Filipinos are bilingual and English study is required from the first grade. Science subjects are generally taught in English, and most university lectures are also in English.

SOVIET UNION--Foreign language study is mandatory for the last six years in state secondary schools and begins as early as second grade in the special schools operated for children of influential party and government leaders.

The general understanding of foreign languages is apparently not much better among Soviets than among U.S. students, however. Teaching quality and pronunciation tend to be poor because Soviet teachers rarely learn the languages from native speakers.

According to the Soviet news agency, Tass, 51% of secondary school students study English. The rest take German or French. English overtook German as the most studied language about 10 years ago.

SWEDEN--All students take English from third grade, and two years of high school English is required for university admission. About 60% also study either German or French from age 13. At 16, students can take a third language. About 70% of high school graduates have taken German at some point, 45 % have taken French, 21% Spanish, 1.3% Italian, 0.8% Russian.

Language studies are considered a must, since only 8 million people in the world speak Swedish. Most Swedes travel extensively, and each year, more than 2,500 high school students go to the United States on exchange programs. Many university courses use textbooks written in English.

BRAZIL--Students usually begin foreign language study in high school, usually English or French, but only 12% of children entering the first grade finish even primary school, and illiteracy runs high.

Among the young and the wealthy, English is considered both "hip" and necessary. Words such as cheeseburger, jeans and bridge loan are parts of everyday language.

JAPAN--Foreign language study here essentially means English, a requirement in grades 10-12, although many take it earlier.

Even after hundreds of hours of study, few Japanese achieve fluency in English because the focus is on writing and grammar, not conversation. The main motive is to pass the English portion of the national college entrance exam.

To improve the quality of English teaching, the government has brought in 1,000 American, Canadian and British teachers to teach English this year, and the program could eventually expand to 10,000.

ITALY--Italians typically begin foreign language study at age 11, and high schools require two to five years of study for graduation. Few Italians achieve fluency because the teachers themselves often lack it.

The number o Italians who can speak English has risen by more than 20% in the last decade, due partly to tourism and prevalence of English in professional literature. About 80% of secondary school students choose English.

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