To continue, or put an end to, foreign language learning

All+MCPS+students+must+receive+two+credits+of+their+chosen+foreign+language+to+graduate.+This+requirement+is+not+a+big+deal+for+some+students+who+have+had+good+experiences+in+their+foreign+language+classes+but+others+find+themselves+struggling+to+keep+up+with+their+language+after+learning+virtually+last+year+or+have+put+an+end+to+their+language+learning+after+obtaining+the+necessary+amount+of+credits.+

Graphic by Evelyn Shue

All MCPS students must receive two credits of their chosen foreign language to graduate. This requirement is not a big deal for some students who have had good experiences in their foreign language classes but others find themselves struggling to keep up with their language after learning virtually last year or have put an end to their language learning after obtaining the necessary amount of credits.

Ellie Noh and Davi Jacobs

Montgomery County Public School students are required to obtain two world language credits to graduate high school. How does studying a language expand knowledge, grasp new insight on the world and provide opportunities for students to improve already established skills? 

Numerous students have expressed fascination and valuable awareness they gained through foreign language classes.

“Taking Spanish has opened my eyes to grasp an entirely new culture and traditions,” sophomore Ifrah Reyal said. “It’s interesting since there are many differences between English and Spanish. Adjectives are placed after nouns, and all nouns have a gender that pronouns must agree with.”

Sophomore Ariana Patel concurs: “I love having the ability to communicate with my Spanish-speaking friends purely in Spanish.”

Over forty-one million individuals speak Spanish at home, so having a solid background in Spanish is beneficial. 

Freshman Bella Brennan was a fluent Spanish speaker prior to her enrollment in Spanish. “Spanish has absolutely proven to be helpful. Both my speaking and writing have certainly improved, and I have learned much more of the history behind the Spanish-speaking culture,” Brennan said. “ I wanted to re-enforce my Spanish to have more job options in the future.”

In addition, French seems to also be a popular foreign language among students. In middle school, students had the opportunity to visit Quebec, Canada to practice their speaking skills.

“I chose French because I love the tone and uniqueness of the language. I have family in France, and I believed mastering French would heighten my chances of going back one day,” sophomore Lianna Meklir said.

French teacher Mr. Gerard Giblin adores his job. “There is nothing greater than passing on the language to young learners,” Mr. Giblin said. “Teaching French is a great way to keep the language on top of its game.”

He also feels that French is valuable for everyone. “There is nothing better for the SAT and higher language English than by studying French. Nearly 58% of English derives from French roots,” Mr. Giblin said.

Sophomore Leyna Weismantel enrolled in American Sign Language this year. “I think ASL is the best class you can take. I really enjoy learning the beautiful language, deaf culture and history. It’s not difficult to learn at all, just mainly muscle memory. I look forward to it every day,” Weismantel said. 

Although pursuing a language has its abundant benefits, grasping and comprehending was exceedingly difficult for students during virtual learning and many relied on extrinsic resources to complete assignments . 

“The adjustment from virtual was quite difficult. Over Zoom school, I missed the opportunity to practice my speaking skills, as assignments were almost entirely through writing. That was not an effective method of learning for me,” sophomore Frances Vallejos admitted.

Junior Anne Moser has also struggled this year and last in her Chinese class. Moser has been immersed in the Chinese language since first grade when she enrolled in the College Gardens Chinese immersion program, with her ultimate goal being fluency in Chinese. 

“Like most of online learning,  I found it to be a really isolating experience,” she said. “The biggest challenge was not being able to practice the language. A lot of people in my class speak Chinese at home, but I don’t, and none of my family knows Chinese either, so it was really difficult to practice.” Moser did her best to communicate with the teacher about the problems she was having with the content and would often meet with her during lunch to ask more questions and get practice. 

The gaps in the curriculum from only having the class twice a week is an issue for Moser currently. “What we learn in these classes applies to what we learn futuristically in the class. In history, if you didn’t learn about some historical event, it’s not going to affect you as much as not learning how to say a certain term in Chinese,” Moser said. “I feel that foreign language students need to be provided with more support and resources for our academic progress and mental health.” 

Moser also pointed out that foreign language courses are not standardized across the county and especially in Chinese, there is a lot of wiggle room for teachers in the way they teach their class.

Foreign language classes are not beneficial for everyone. Senior Keely deGasperis took French from 6th grade up until her sophomore year. “I wasn’t learning anything useful. I could talk about squirrels and trees in a forest, but I couldn’t talk about directions,” deGasperis said. 

When the pandemic first hit and learning turned virtual, she struggled a lot with the class. “Through the screen, it was so hard to understand my teacher’s accent in both French and English. It was easy to not pay attention which really hurt me in the class. If I continued to take the course, I would have most definitely failed the class,” deGasperis said. 

deGasperis believes the language department should focus more on the useful aspects of the language. “Instead of learning all the tenses and conjugations first, which are still very important, we should learn how to ask for directions and make small talk. Then we should learn the grammar behind what we already know,” she said. 

I wasn’t learning anything useful. I could talk about squirrels and trees in a forest, but I couldn’t talk about directions.”

— Keely deGasperis

On the other hand, junior Cleopha Costa has made great progress with her foreign language. “I had Sr. Colchao for Spanish last year  and he was an outstanding teacher. I did miss out on some content, like por vs. para, but the activities assigned made translating sentences very easy now,” she said. “Sr. Colchao taught the tenses and subjunctive mood really well so those concepts are drilled in my head.” 

Spanish teacher Rachel Carter strives to support her students by adapting course instruction to fit the knowledge gap from virtual learning.

“We have been doing a lot of reviews with grammar topics and vocabulary. I’ve been scaffolding, teaching at a slower pace, and allowing students to reassess most tests,” Carter said.

Likewise, students have been forced to get back into the habit of studying and preparing for quizzes.  Quizlet, a website which provides interactive learning tools,  is  effective for remembering vocabulary and conjugations. 

“Making physical flashcards can sometimes be more successful than online tools,” Mahdood said. “It’s beneficial for me to hand write the terms down. It just seems to stick in my brain better.”

Which language will you pursue throughout your  high school years? Every language has its own beautiful flow and unique qualities. What’s not to love about stepping into an extraordinary new community?