High School Language Learning And Teen Study Abroad:
A Current State Of Affairs
By: Christophe Chabaudie
Upon relocating to the United States in 2001, I found myself looking at all of my options. As a speaker of five languages, one of the most exciting options was to work in the language field, not as a teacher, but working in some capacity similar to what language teachers do in the classroom. While creating a new name in teen study abroad programs, I have been able to witness the ever- changing picture of language acquisition in the United States. Here’s a brief panoramic view of the state of affairs for language teachers, parents and high school students looking at the last decade plus:
What’s Changed for Teachers
While enrollment numbers in language classes have overall fallen, teachers have become more knowledgeable about the concept of studying abroad. There is a good chance some of them studied abroad in college and that they know the benefits first hand. They have the potential to make languages classes more fun and are now able to discern the differences between study abroad programs effectively.
Overall attendance to traditional events where professionals can connect with teachers (such as language conferences) has plummeted with few exceptions. This has made it harder to connect in the more traditional, person-to-person way. Social media has helped fill the gap.
The red tape has become increasingly difficult to navigate. An increasing number of teachers have stopped organizing their school trips or exchange programs abroad on their own. Everyone agrees that liability and safety are nowadays better handled by professionals. Most schools prefer to recommend a summer immersion alternative.
What’s Changed for Parents
Competition for college admission has become more and more stressful. Parents are aware that their child’s resume needs to be unique and that summer experiences make a difference. Many hire private coaches who have in recent years been recommending summer immersion experiences. Parents no longer refer to summer immersion as a “summer camp” or “international camp” anymore. They understand the concept and benefits of teen study abroad.
More study abroad companies have flourished and offer plenty of different programs. Choices for parents have become more numerous and confusing. Program prices are extremely diverse and parents are understandably cautious when selecting a study abroad company. The all-inclusive immersion programs are always a favorite due to the peace of mind they offer.
It’s easier to win the confidence of parents who know they will be in touch with their child during his or her time abroad. Nowadays, easier and cheaper communication and travel blog updates are winning over some of the most anxious parents.
What’s Changed for Students
Students are the ones for which the study abroad experience is just about the same in intensity and fun as it was 14 years ago. They get the same amount of real life experiences, appreciation for a different culture, and care and love from awesome homestay families. Immersion programs have still the same potential to help a student’s personality evolve and grow outside of its usual comfort zone while properly supervised by responsible adults.
The only major difference in teen study abroad for students is technology. Participants are no longer cut off from their parents and friends while abroad. There’s no need to wait for an evening phone call with your family from your homestay. The dramatic decrease of phone communication costs and the immediate connectivity provided by tools like Facebook and Facetime has completely changed their vision of distance.
Students are somewhat more mature than they were in the past but are still kids at heart, needing constant and subtle support while abroad. They enjoy both the planned activities and classes but also the scheduled free time with friends in a safe environment.
Interestingly, there seems to be a trend of falling numbers for students enrolled in high school language classes across America. Yet, a growing number of high school students are showing a strong interest in enrolling in summer immersion programs. This contrasting data is a striking difference with other parts of the world. For example, 90% of European secondary education students are learning a second language. Standards are strict all over the European continent while the U.S. has no nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states even allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation. Whatever the causes are now, the consequences in the future will be dramatic, as the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world. As a leading company in teen study abroad, we have helped parents and students understand the edge they can gain by traveling abroad with a purpose while in high school. The current lack of funding for foreign language programs and the lack of financial support for schools mean that more students need to think outside the box to make sure they don’t miss out.
We have seen the difference studying abroad can make and the boost it gives to college applications, job interviews, and even salary negotiations. Language study abroad programs for teens in high school and language learning in general during teen years can help boost and maintain America’s future competitiveness, particularly when competing with countries whose youth speak multiple languages as a matter of everyday life.
Want to Read More on the Subject? Here are some valuable resources:
The Atlantic, “Filling America’s Language Education Pot-Holes.”
Pew Research Center, “Learning a Foreign Language a Must in Europe, Not So in America.”
The Guardian, “Lack of Languages Stifles Brits and Americans.”
University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, “Can All U.S. Residents Have the Opportunity to Learn a Second Language?”
European Commission/Eurostat, "Key Data on Learning Language at School in Europe"
A Few Words About Safety: The most important yet probably least advertised side of our business.
Keeping the Pulse on Operations: Our hands-on approach allows us to organize the best experience for our students.
Study Abroad Destinations for Teens: The Seemingly Overwhelming Selection The Spanish Speaking World Offers.