The term “foreign language” is firmly imbedded in the world’s culture, used to refer to a language a person is learning/has learned that is not their native tongue. But I’ve been thinking lately, musing on the problems of using these words.
What exactly is “foreign”? I think we need to look at a couple of problems with several definitions people have used for a “foreign language”:
1.A language from another country. – But Spanish is alive and well in America, yet it is still called a foreign language in school curriculums.
1a.A language that originated in another country. – I’m speaking English right now, aren’t I?
2.A language not a speaker’s native. – But how do you define “native”? What if a person was raised bilingual – in a household speaking both, let’s say, English and Russian. Now, which one of those would you define as “foreign”? Maybe it depends on the location – in America Russian would probably be considered the “outcast” of the two, but the situation wouldn’t be the same in Russia.
2a.More on the “native” problem. How young does a person have to be when they start learning a language for that language to be considered their “native”? If a person speaks one tongue, but at seven years old starts learning another, is that too old? How about six? Five? When does it start?
3.So, WHEN does a language stop becoming foreign? If a person attains fluency in a language, I would say that that language is no longer “foreign” to them.
These are only a few reasons I think people need to stop using the term “foreign language”. Why can’t a language be just that – a language?