The struggle for a place in the sun: Rationalizing foreign language study in the twentieth century

James P. Lantolf, Gretchen Sunderman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Over the course of the past century, the MLJ was one of the sites where the vigorous, and often times passionate justification for, and defense of, foreign language (FL) study in the educational curriculum of the United States unfolded. Almost 10% of the slightly more than 4,000 articles published in the MLJ during the past century focused on the value and relevance of FL study in the educational enterprise. This article will focus on five major themes that surfaced throughout the 8 decades covered by our survey. The first theme comprises the general arguments offered by the profession in support of the value of FL study, most of which were impacted directly or indirectly by world events. The second and third themes document periods of general doubt and optimism about the place of FLs in the curriculum. In the fourth major theme, we describe the passionate and intense argumentation between the faculties of education and the defenders of FL study. The fifth, and final theme, addresses the question of which FLs should be taught in the schools and what contribution each might make to a student's education. As we enter the 21st century, it seems clear that the profession still feels compelled to justify the educational merit of its subject matter. In the end, given the twists and turns that history can take, it is difficult to predict whether FL study will eventually find an uncontested place in the sun.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-25
Number of pages21
JournalModern Language Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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