When did you begin to learn foreign language?

Native Korean   Mon Sep 24, 2007 5:36 pm GMT
In my country South Korea, students begin to learn English from the 3rd grade at schools. (It's compulsory!)

Most students begin to learn second foreign language(choose one language from Chinese, Japanese, German, French, Spanish) from the 10th grade. (It's optional!)

I am curious about other countries and the language eduaction.
In your country, when do students generally begin to learn English and other foreign language?
And is it compulsory or optional?

Please identify your country with your answer.
statian   Mon Sep 24, 2007 7:23 pm GMT
US -- 7th grade (plus small amounts earlier than that)
Mallorquí.   Mon Sep 24, 2007 10:28 pm GMT
J'ai commencé à étudier le français à treize ans.

Je suis catalan.
SJF   Tue Sep 25, 2007 3:07 am GMT
In China(Mainland),the kids in kindergarten begin to study English.
Xie   Tue Sep 25, 2007 8:35 am GMT
Born in Hong Kong in the late 80s, I learnt ABC when I was three. But I really learnt English effectively only at primary/elementary school and at junior high school. Before and after that, I was never really encouraged nor motivated to learn.

But I would say my real adventure started last year, when my German study led me into thinking deeply about language learning in general, and have since experimented with lots of learning methods, courses and books...

Generally, people here won't learn a fourth language unless 1) they are from a special background (of mixed descent) 2) they take courses / declare majors in it (but options are few) or 3) they are motivated (like me). Our three de facto official languages are all compulsory, but many of my generation and elder people normally can get by here without speaking Mandarin well at all.... but it's strange that, without English, a "foreign" language in the national sense, people can't enter universities.
K. T. (USA)   Wed Sep 26, 2007 3:08 am GMT
Fourteen in my school, but I learned some German in sixth grade (about age 11)...I think it depends on the state and district or the type of school. My school was rural and public. My parents wanted me to go to a private boarding school, but no, I had to be stubborn and go the public school route.

In my former school district, it's still the same thing. Foreign Languages start at 14 in high school. Very sad, imo.

When we lived in another state, my older brother started his first foreign language in sixth grade.
Portugal   Wed Sep 26, 2007 3:26 am GMT
I started learning English in the 5th grade (age 10) and then French in the 7th grade (age 12).

The education system has changed since then; think nowadays kids are starting to learn the 1st foreign language in 3rd grade.
It is compulsory for everyone to learn two foreign languages, usually English and French.
mac   Wed Sep 26, 2007 4:20 am GMT
In my state in the USA most students begin in junior high or high school. But it's usually not required for all the years throughout. In my case, I only did two years in high school, which I regret now. I didn't get serious about a foreign language until I went to college.

As K.T. said, it varies by state and type of school. But generally foreign language in US grade schools doesn't seem to taken with the same seriousness as English is in other countries. I hope this changes...so the Europeans will stop making fun of our monolingual tendencies, ha!
Guest   Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:16 am GMT
In English language countries, the problem is no one want to study language, because they are very unpopular. When a kid says he wants to learn language everyone laughs at his face and shakes their head.
Guest   Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:17 am GMT
And even if not so rude, they will ask 'but, whYYY?? ' in an incredulous voice.
Xie   Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:15 am GMT
But let's face it. There isn't such thing as a country where, for example and at least, all 6 UN languages and other populous languages (+50M speakers) are all official. Most of us are to different degrees monolingual. People can't really use languages very frequently, so normally... owing to the question of utility, most of us wouldn't want to learn a new language for different reasons.

Very roughly, the world consists of Anglophone countries (English only, in general), monolingual countries and others. I'm in the third category. My view is that, according to my life experiences, unless you really have "too many" chances to get exposed to languages, like your family is full of members from different ethnic (thus linguistic) backgrounds, or your friends, teachers or parents are polyglots, you would never be motivated to learn languages...

It seems like many of the latter 2 groups are all learning English, but let's see how "good" English an average person in those countries speaks. Without prolonged stay in, say, an Anglophone country, how is he going to really know the cultural half of English, which is actually indispensable?

In my place, yes, everyone must know English well enough to enter a university, but who really speaks it well? Naturally, there's a myth that you can't learn English well (and any other foreign language, for us Chinese) unless you spend a lot of money / stay in the US/UK etc for a few years and so on. Unless the "unless", favourable situations above happen, people won't really count on your ability to speak a foreign tongue. In my place, if a localer learns English, people would think he's hardworking and, ok, his English is good, can boost his GPA, period. If he learns other languages well, even like Mandarin (which is actually official and national), people won't really regard it as an achievement...... just because they all aren't used here.
Xie   Thu Sep 27, 2007 10:22 am GMT
I may sound somewhat sweeping, but in short, foreign language is an inherently foreign/alien/strange business, which ordinary people won't really like, esp. when they are forced to, like how millions of ESL learners are doing since they are small, UNLESS (again) they find it to be inherently interesting...

I don't see many (enough) people who like foreign languages without being multilingual in the first place / being motivated even for a reason like having bad experiences in school (I was).
K. T.   Fri Sep 28, 2007 3:49 am GMT

You left some interesting food for thought.

Most people in the USA do not need to learn a language (not even Spanish), but it enriches one's life imo. People who are practical will not waste time on pursuits that seem to have little use.
Xie   Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:58 am GMT
But, well, in fact, Hongkongers do not need to learn a language, too - they just happen to be among one the groups that have to learn *some* of some languages for the sake of university entrance / doing business, etc. Yet, in a strict sense, most people can hardly claim to speak, for example, English at a decently high level.

Many of them are just among one the groups which feels that they have been failed by school education.... by nationalism/imperialism, etc, and won't want to learn others. I must admit that the survival rate of language students is very low, not to say that of language pupils of high school (^for foreign languages are often taught only at this stage, and profound enough)...
Guest   Fri Sep 28, 2007 11:51 am GMT
<<the survival rate of language students>>, lol, nicely put.

Learning a new language really isn't that easy, considering many people don't even speak well enough their own language.