|  |  | 

Online Opinions

Maine West, We’re Failing Our Foreign Language Students


We all know the benefits of knowing another language: employment benefits, better cognitive abilities, and maybe even getting a date. Luckily for us, we don’t have to go to desperate measures to learn these skills.

Amidst all the electives Maine West has to offer, one particular field of courses revolve around the learning — and mastering — of four different foreign languages, which consist of Italian, French, German, and predominantly Spanish. Hundreds of students attend these classes, with the belief that they are learning a language in which they have the potential to be fluent in.

They believe in an imperfect joke.

Turns out we’re probably not so lucky after all.

You see, within these classes, the curriculum focuses on two critical points: grammar and vocabulary. While both of these are important in itself, the way it is applied throughout the school year is wrapped in bland, tasteless design and, when unfolded, students still lack essential skills.

So much for the present.

Additionally, every once in a while students are brutally slapped in the face with a sudden summative test intended to test reading and listening comprehension, despite never having practiced such a thing. Whenever these tests occur, students are left gaping at each other with relatively the same thought: they’re screwed.

Ask anyone about how they learned a language and you’d hear roughly the same words, most predominantly the words “time” and “practice.”

Time? Check. Practice? Blank.

There is no point in going over a bank of vocabulary for a week and a half only to return to it in a scramble to study before final exams. There is no point going over grammar when we rarely apply it again in the future until, of course, the dreaded final exams. There has to be a better way.

Students only infrequently muddle with speaking exercises; in fact, we don’t practice listening nor do we practice reading comprehension to the extent that we should. That’s the problem; the curriculum is set up so that we don’t get enough exercise in verbal expression.

Languages are much, much more than a bunch of topics that you go over for two weeks or so at a time. We didn’t learn how to speak English, or any language you speak at home, by going over topics for a few weeks and ditching them afterward.

Instead, we take it and experiment with it, form sentences with the new words, and apply the grammar throughout our lives. We practice reading, we listen, and we apply it. Rinse and repeat.

Yet, why do we not do the same thing for those who are learning a new language? Why do we not invest time into reading and listening comprehension skills — in class and on our own?

For the teachers who already do these things, thank you. For those who don’t, students need you need to set a time every couple of weeks to review concepts and assign homework with it.

Use this rinse and repeat method to help students gain those better employment opportunities, cognitive skills, and a date.

They’ll thank you in the future.

1 Comment

  1. Grace Yue

    Excellent points. In large part, the value of learning a foreign language lies in speaking it, or at least understanding it when you hear it. Actually, some schools offer full-immersion language classes — where, when you enter the classroom, you’re not allowed to speak English, only the target language. Over time, full-immersion courses allow common phrases to become second nature for the students, removing the “middleman” of coming up with a thought in English first and *then* mentally translating it into the target language. Also helps develop a more natural accent.

    Trips to the language lab should be more frequent.

Leave a Reply