Every high school in America teaches foreign language classes to students. Most require at least 2 years to a single language to graduate, some even three. The reasoning behind this is that colleges usually require at least 2 years of language for admission. A fourth year of a language is usually optional and depends on how much a student likes it. My recommendation is to take 3 years of a language no matter what.
So then the question arises for high school students: What language should I take? Most schools offer Spanish, French, and Latin. Many more offer classes such as German, Japanese, Russian, or Mandarin. Below I will list the pros and cons of each of the major foreign languages to help students make a better decision.
Almost everyone takes Spanish and for good reason. It is considered the easiest of the romance languages to learn and is practical in America today. Especially for students living in the southwest, Spanish can be very useful. There are times when I wish I signed up for Spanish as opposed to French. The drawback of Spanish is that outside of Latin America and Spain, there really is nowhere else to speak it. For many students, this does not matter, but if you want to actually use your foreign language skills in Europe, Spanish is not a very good choice. For Americans it is great, but Europe, even Africa is full of French and English. Spanish is practical in the U.S.
French is the second most common language in high schools. In recent years its popularity has dropped significantly, around 18% because people are finding less use for it. I personally think that French is very useful and took 4 years of French classes in high school. Countries besides France that speak French are: Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Algeria, Tunisia, and many others. Additionally, many great literary works were written originally in French, so if you want to read the original version of Candide, Les Miserables, The Stranger, The Little Prince, or many other novels, French is the way to go. If none of these things interest you, then Spanish is probably the safer way to go, as it is considered an easier language to learn.
I think that Latin is completely useless in this day and age. No one speaks Latin in the world anymore and its other uses are extremely limited. The only advantage of learning Latin that I can think of is that it helps with SAT vocabulary. Many English words come from Latin, so if a student knows the Latin roots of a word, then he will most likely be able to pick the right choice on the SAT. I would not waste time learning a dead language just to score a few more points on the SAT, but then again I am a practical person. If those few points matter more than learning an actual language, then Latin is the way to go.
Other popular high school languages include Japanese, Russian, German, and Mandarin. Out of these four other language, Mandarin in probably the most useful. For this reason the number of high schools offering Mandarin classes has more than doubled in the last few years. With all of the business in America going to China, it is helpful to understand its native language. Although English is still the business language of the world, China is one of, if not the biggest trading partner America has. Being able to understand Chinese could be of great benefit in the future.
Japanese is interesting to learn because the language is nothing at all like what Americans are used to hearing. Although application is limited, many electronics are made in Japan, so it could be useful. German is just cool to know. Many people look at Germany as a paradigm of Europe, and honestly, the language sounds pretty bad ass. Russian is great to know if you ever plan on traveling/living/working in Eastern Europe. Although the countries in Eastern Europe have their own official languages, everyone understands Russian. This one language will cover about a dozen countries, all within the distance of a single train ride.
There are many different languages that a high school student can take. Spanish, French and Latin are the most common because they are probably the most practical and useful. Spanish is hands down the easiest and best to know in America. French is better to know in Europe. And Latin is really only useful for the SAT. Students should always take a foreign language in high school, because colleges require it, and just to be exposed to a different culture. If you are anything at all like me, I also like to be able to read the instructions to new electronics in French. It makes me feel special.