Did you study a foreign language in school?

doceolatinMarch 22, 2007

I found out last week that our district plans on dropping a few language courses. Based on the amount of money spent on sports the district is not struggling.

I'm heart broken. I've put my life into my program and my kids have always loved the program. They always return and tell me how much my courses have helped them in college.

What second language did you study in HS? Did you study a second language in college?

What did you like the most about studying a new language?

What did you like least about studying a new language?

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I only studied Spanish in high school for a couple years - nothing in college. Now I so regret that I don't speak any other language. I've traveled internationally, have had some international business opportunities, I feel completely lame compared to people from other countries who often speak at least two if not more languages - not to mention everything they know about other countries besides their own.

I think we in the US are way too "self-involved" in terms of our view of the world. What you describe is a perfect example. What do you think is really more important to individual students and our society as a whole in the long run - more sports - or a more global view of our place in the world.

Okay - I better stop now - I'm getting worked up.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 6:48PM
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Boy, you hit on one of my pet peeves. Our school district threatens the same thing every few years.

I think it is so short sighted. We don't live in an isolated 1950's world anymore. We are exposed to other cultures and nationalities daily and not just in large metropolitan areas. People travel much more widely than they used to. I believe we should have MORE language instruction starting very young. My ideal would be Belgium where all kids learn 4 languages.

I had 3 yrs Latin and 4 years French plus more French in college. I can read it pretty well but am still a tourist as far as speaking and understanding the spoken word. I've also studied Italian with Berlitz and really loved that. It was thrilling to me to have actual conversations in Italy. OK, pretty short conversations!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 7:07PM
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I think studying other languages and cultures is vital to having a less US-centric view of the world. It's terrible when enriching programs like languages, music, and art are cut in favor of sports. Sports are important, mind you, but not to the exclusion of the other valuable programs.

I lived in Germany when I was quite young and picked up German like a sponge. But we returned to the US and I never used it again. We then lived in France, where I was a bit older. I picked up a smattering of everyday French, but not fluently. Back in the US, in high school, I took French and it was very easy for me. When I went to college, the curriculum required proficiency in a foreign language within two years. I passed the courses fairly early on, but ended up taking several more and graduated with a minor in French Literature.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 7:10PM
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When I was growing up, I loved watching "I Love Lucy." I was intrigued with Ricky Ricardo's Spanish, so I wanted to learn Spanish. Since Spanish wasn't taught at my junior high, I enrolled in French. I took every French course in junior and senior high. Sixteen years after graduation from high school, I became a non-traditional, adult college student. However, when I was required a foreign language, I chose French. I remembered it very well. Also, I was able to converse fairly well when I recently visited France.

Both my children also studied French in high school. My daughter is currently taking an advanced French language course at college, too. She hopes to complete her foreign-study requirement in France.

I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed by the other posters, too.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 12:03AM
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I learned French and Spanish because as a child I lived in countries where each was spoken.

(Not strictly true in the case of French as the country I learned it in was Indochina, but it was near total immersion when I was briefly enrolled in a school for French kids there. It was about 3rd grade and inside of a couple of months I was fluent in both reading and writing. Such is the power of early and complete immersion, and the innate wiring in young brains.) Later on my family moved to Latin America, so that's where the Spanish came in.

When I came back to US prep school we were required to take a foreign language, but the only ones offered besides French and Spanich (which I wasn't eligible for as I was by then judged a fluent speaker in each) were Latin and Russian. Doceo I'm sorry to say I chose Russian instead of your fave.

Learning Russian was no easy job as my brain had changed somewhat, but I slogged through 3 years in HS, then three more in college. Although I can still decipher it in print, I haven't heard it spoken in three decades so it's deeply dormant, if not inaccessible now.

Even though I have no recent exposure to them, both Spanish, and particularly French, are still easy for me to read and within an hour or so of hearing them spoken they appear magically out of my mouth. It always amazes me because I would have heavy weather of it if I was unexpectedly forced to begin speaking in either, but once my internal language brain has "heard" them coming in again it just springs to life. I can go from stammering to fluency in the time it takes to go from the airport to the hotel.

I think the secret is that I learned both of them at a very early age and they are strongly imprinted somewhere in whatever part of my brain processes language. Given what we now know about how brains change as they mature it seems utterly absurd that we still delay teaching foreign languages until high school.

I agree with pp's, it's embarassing and strategically dumb of us in the US to be so insular. In most other countries every person with anything beyond minimal education speaks several languages, fluently. I don't know why we seem to have so much prejudice against foreign language instruction. Perhaps it's because we are a nation of such relatively recent immigrants that the efforts made to shed the linguistic barriers of native language usage has led us to be short sighted about second (or third or fourth) language learning.

I am hearing a bit more Spanish spoken around me, and I enjoy it so. I live near a major engineering university and I often hear foreign languages spoken in my supermarket by grad students. It's one of the pleasures of shopping there.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 5:53AM
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The problem is that there are so many other languages, which ones do you teach? Conventional wisdom years ago said french and spanish, being that those were languages of our neighboring countries. Latin was also offered, I would imagine, because it was the root of so much of many other languages. But then there was Viet Namese when we had the huge influx in the early 70's. Many people want to learn Chinese, or Russian. And then there are people from ALL backgrounds who want to learn their OWN heritage's language, be that Italian, German, Polish, etc.. Where do you begin? Guaranteed, you're not going to please everyone.

That all said, I had 2 years of french, and 4 years of spanish, and especially when I was in the navy, I was really sorry I didn't pay as much attention as I could have.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 8:07AM
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I'm so sorry to hear about your school system dropping the program. I was a foreign language teacher for 11 years- now I do teacher training. My foreign language background, both as a student and a teacher, has been invaluable to me. Studying a language, any language, really, trains the mind in a way that is extremely valuable and it teaches a tremendous amount about how language works. This kind of understanding translates into improved facility in a native language and better communication overall.
As a teacher of language, I learned how to tap into a huge variety of learning styles and methods to reach students. I now teach teachers literacy strategies and being able to reach into my "foreign language bag of tricks" greatly enriches my more traditional reading curriculum.

Oh, sorry, I am rambling now. But I hope your school reverses course. Everyone should be exposed to learning a foreign language, even if they never become fluent. And don't even get me started on the importance of learning about other cultures and seeing our culture through a different lens. That is absolutely vital!

To answer your other question- I studied Spanish in middle and high school, French, Italian, and Chinese in college and I've since taught myself some German.


    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 8:42AM
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It's fairly well known here in California that the increase in the Latino population is outpacing that of any other ethnic group. And in my particular area there are charter schools being developed that are Mandarin-based. And just a couple of days ago my newspaper ran an article about how some major league baseball catchers are studying Spanish so that they can communicate more effectively with their teammates. It seems that with the "Flattening of the World" (to use Friedman's metaphor), we need to be thinking about how to prepare our kids to interact on the global scale. When I was in high school, the Spanish I learned was considered kind of an "extra" or enrichment course. Today in my area it's becoming a necessity, not only for empolyment purposes but even for everyday communication purposes. Here's a quote you may find interesting from an online employment journal in California:

"More and more companies are seeking bilingual employees, as they recognize the growing purchasing power of Latinos, who spent $653.6 million last year in California alone (tops in the nation). Hurtado claims the Hispanic population in the state is doubling each year and that half of the people between the ages of 18-49 are Hispanic. It's no wonder that bilingual candidates are finding more employment opportunities.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 11:58AM
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I took French in 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades. Then I took it for 1 year in college. I can read a menu, that's about it. My public high school offered French, Spanish, Italian and Latin (mid 1980s).

I honestly think I started too late. I am a very verbal person, and I believe I was already so entrenched in English that I never really "learned" French, I merely memorized and translated.

Personally, I think language education should start earlier for the kids that are academically capable.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 12:27PM
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I took 3 years of Spanish in HS and 2 years of French in college- not nearly enough to be able to actually SPEAK either language.
I can tranlate to a certain degree. When I travel I can ask the important questions ~ "How much?" and "Where is the toilet?"

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 6:04PM
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There is a push right now to increase instruction in Mandarin, and in arabic languages. Both make sense to me. I've actually been pushing our local school district to add Mandarin to the curriculum. It's the number three language in the U.S. now, after English and Spanish, yet there are very few schools that teach it. And for our kids to function in a global economy, it seems to be a necessity.
I studied French in high school, and it hasn't served me in a practical sense. But I think that learning ANY foreign language is good for the brain. It forces you to think in a different way, and it gives you a better understanding of your own language.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2007 at 8:42PM
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Hi Doceo,

I took French for 6 years of jr. high and high school, and then two semesters in college. I agree with previous posters that language instruction should start earlier. My daughter is learning Spanish from Dora the Explorer and in preschool, and she surprises me with how much she's learned! I also agree that it is embarrassing to go abroad and meet people, particularly Europeans, who speak so many languages so well. It's very ethnocentric (is that the word? or is in american-centric) to think we don't need to learn other languages because everyone else will accommodate us by speaking English.

I want to second what Kteach said -- and I think it is an important point for saving foreign language programs -- learning French improved my understanding of English. I never thought much about tenses until I took French. Then I began to understand conditional, imperfect, future perfect tenses. I had been using them in English, but I hadn't ever *thought* about them until I had to learn them in French.

In this testing-focused atmosphere, schools are so obsessed with meeting these standards imposed from above that they are abandoning things like foreign language that really expand the mind and, in my opinion, make for a well-rounded person.

Let us know what happens -- we're rooting for you!


    Bookmark   March 24, 2007 at 9:49AM
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Oh do whatever you can to fight it. I think learning languages is such an important part of an education. If they can fund the sports they can fund language!

I took a year of French in HS then moved to German. I was an exchange student in Germany for a year, Majored in German in College, worked for a German company for 7 years so I was able to use what I learned, especially when I had to go to Germany for business. My husband constantly states how much he wished he knew a second language. Our son is taking Mandarian Chinese in HS which I'm so happy he can, with so much commerce there I think it'll help in in whatever he chooses to do, but especially in what he really wants to do - game design!

If I were you I'd get a petetion going and present it to the school board. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2007 at 11:18AM
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4 years of French. The only thing I got out of it is the correct pronunciation of French words.
I would of much rathered taken Spanish, I mean, 1/3 of my HS and 3 of my college room mates were Latino so it would of come in handy. I'm trying to get my Department to pay for some Spanish classes I can attend as I am trying to communicate with so many more Latinos in my work.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2007 at 11:55AM
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I took English and German in School. I went to school in Sweden. I find it invaluable for traveling as well as business. Most people that speak to me here in the US wouldn't know at all that English is my second language. I think it is a major loss for a school system to drop languages as business is so global nowadays. I work with people from all over the world in our company. Even though we all speak English in meetings when one has to visit other locations it doesn't hurt to understand the language and culture.

I wish I knew how to speak Spanish and if I could ever find time to do something outside work and working on our house I would like to take Spanish that teaches every day to day talking.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 7:49PM
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I took 3 years of Spanish in high school with a fabulous teacher. After the first 3 weeks of Spanish 1, not a word of English was spoken in class. We listened, spoke and wrote in Spanish. We began to dream in Spanish.

I still speak and write it. One of my children is bilingual. Can't say I've ever used algebra or trig but math is a 'language', too- and no more or less important than a (spoken) language that bridges cultures and expands human communication.

I'm a big fan of team sports for kids- my girls have many advantages I did not, as they've worked for common goals with other women, and not just 'against' other women as those of my generation so often did. But cutting languages before trimming athletic budgets is insanity.

Raise hell, doceolatin. Don't let them get away with it.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 10:00AM
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Thank you all for your input. In case you didn't know from my name, I'm a Latin teacher. 'doceo' means 'I teach.' The word for museum guide,docent, is a derivative...just one of many words my students can identify because of their studies.

We do speak Latin, too LOL. My students are a range of LD students to gifted students who study 2 or more languages. They blend quite well and they help each other out. While they may never order a meal in Latin, my former students have always told me how much my course has helped them survive in college.

I'm devastated. I won't be out of a job (I'm dual certified), but I really believe in the value of Classical Latin.

Thank you for sharing your stories.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2007 at 5:49PM
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We still have Latin in our school here. We actually had two Latin teachers, but one passed away, and they probably won't replace him. They aren't even considering eliminating it. I think it depends on the community. I also believe in classical Latin. Our oldest daughter took Latin.
There is a lot of "tweaking" that our educational system needs to do, if it wants to rise above a level of mediocrity.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2007 at 2:26PM
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The study of foreign language is usually required for college admission. I'm really surprised they're dropping courses. Doing so doesn't exactly help the kids stay on a college track.

My son is in 6th grade in middle school and he's already had both Spanish and Chinese as intro courses in his elective wheel. It's a big emphasis. He'll probably stick with Spanish (we live in So. Cal.). He understands quite a bit of Greek as my dh is from Greece (it's his first language) but that's not an offering. Even though his Chinese teacher was Greek, she taught Chinese. We knew her from church (Greek Orthodox) That confused the heck outta my MIL. lol

Back on topic. Raise a stink. Unless enrollment is dropping to justify it, it's wrong.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 3:44AM
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I took French in high school and Spanish in college and I hated it both times. What a waste. Poorly taught, poorly learned. Latin was offered in high school and I wish I'd had the opportunity to take it, but back in the 60's it was "by invitation only"?! Go figure.

My kids started school at a German School in the Washington, DC area, and that's clearly the way to learn a language. They were totally immersed in it. My oldest was speaking like a native within a year.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2007 at 7:12AM
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Growing up in Germany, learning a minumum of two foreign languages was and still is mandatory if you want to enter university. Most students preparing for university will actually learn three. So I took English, French and Latin. While I liked English and French classes, even though I wasn't really good at them, I always hated, hated and hated Latin. And at the same time I knew all along that Latin was crucial for a better understanding of my mothertongue as well as the foreign languages I was learning. Don't regret a single day of it.

And it is certainly one reason that my English spelling is better than that of most native speakers (I proof read often enough in my job to know).

As an adult it was easy for me to pick up some Suahili while travelling. Or take a few weeks of Spanish before a vacation and then at least be able to use some polite phrases - opening up another world of opportunities to discover another country and culture.

In the province I live now language learning is not mandatory anymore. They are trying to re-instate mandatory Second-Language-Education at least for Grades 4 through 9 but after decades of not doing it, schools struggle to find qualified teachers (who would want to become a language teacher in a time when no student HAS to learn one???) and build resources. My 6th grader so far has had some French in gr. 4, even got a grade in her report card for being taught 30 minutes once every 2 weeks (reading the report card was the first time I found out that she "learned" French, there was never any homework, exam or such). How the heck can anybody learn a language that way??? It got "better" in gr. 5 where she had 25 minutes of French twice a week. Still, no way to get kids to learn a language. And since it's not even offered at all now in gr. 6 she's all but forgotten everything she's done before. And has come to hate learning another language because of this awful way of language instruction :-(

I really want my children to take up French again in Jr. High where it will be available as an option. But I am at a loss about how to convince them when there is absolutely nothing in the school system indicating the importance of such a choice.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 11:53PM
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I ADORED language learning. I learned some Spanish in grade school (and lived in an area where it was often spoken) and took French in Jr. high, high school, and college. I spent 6 weeks in a total immersion situation in France right out of high school. I used to read books and magazines in French to keep up with it, but I've let that fall by the wayside, I'm afraid. I could still pick it up quickly but haven't really had a need for it in a while nor the time to pursue it.

DH and I went to Mexico for a week, and by the third day I could communicate fairly well. I am quick with languages but also, as others have said, you can apply what you've already learned from studying other languages when trying out a new one. Your mind has already learned to try and think in the new language rather than translate, as my French teacher used to say.

The best thing I ever did for my English skills (I'm a native speaker) was to take a foreign language.

When I was very young, we lived next door to a Japanese family. They spoke no English, but I loved going to their house and playing with their little girl. I actually learned to converse with them in Japanese, but I have no memory of it at all. Children are just amazing with language. I think if you can start them at a young age, exploring and experimenting with a different tongue, it helps tremendously in their future language studies and thinking skills in general.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2007 at 2:11AM
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When the kids were quite young, for a couple of years we had neighbors with 3 totally deaf children.

Those two years were very quiet. All the kids in the neighborhood quickly learned ASL from the neighbors- and it became the official 'kid' language of the block, partially out of deference to the deaf children, and partially because they could communicate without (most) parents knowing what was 'said'.

DivaD1 and DS can still spell rapidly to each other.

I would love to see ASL taught at our school.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 9:42AM
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Like many here, I don't speak another language even though I've taken a couple of adult ed classes in Spanish, as well as having a Spanish language class twice a week for most of my 4th grade year. However, I speak much more Spanish than my daughter who took two full years of H.S. Spanish and won the Bank of America award for language for her school. Why? Perhaps my willingness to apply what I DO know, especially with my clients who need it, and also I think, because of the fact that my learning took place at age 10 instead of years later as the schools often arrange things.

I do think that learning a 2nd language is of importance and should not be dropped from the curriculum. But, I also firmly believe, that the 2nd language should be taught in elementary school first. I think that more would sign up for languages if they had that early basis.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 12:41PM
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It's SUCH a shame to see languages being cut to fund these ridiculous sports budgets. And we grow fatter and more US-Centric every year and wonder why?...

I remember writing an editorial for our high school newspaper advocating for our high school to offer Latin and Calculus (they didn't) and to keep 4th year German (they had to combine it with 3rd year). I was outraged that they claimed 'budget' for those choices, yet offered six classes in forein foods and 5 in film-making! (California in the 1970's.) The football coach/history teacher (in that order) wrote a rebuttal editorial, but our journalism teacher told the librarian (good friend of my mom's) that it was so poorly written, she couldn't possibly print it.

Here in Texas, sports programs are so competitive and demanding that the average kids can't possibly play. The the athletically-gifted get more so, and the remaining 90% get more and more sedentary. How about some simple sports for all? Heck, art and music here are the same way. Either you're great, or they don't really want you playing...

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 2:08PM
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I am sorry to hear about your school district, and I think that it is very short sighted of them. If we Americans hope to communicate even within our own country effectively in the years to come, we need to be putting world language study into the elementary schools. It is a much more stable subject than elementary science or geography, and is absorbed more easily at a young age.

I, like many Americans of my generation, only had a few years of Spanish and a few years of French between high school and college, and only learned the very rudimentary basics. It is just not sufficient in a shrinking world community!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2007 at 2:26PM
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This is why we've decided already to send our 17month old to private school. I'm tired of the reductions in art and music, and then they get into languages? I just don't get it. I took Latin and French (I was going to be a pharmacist so Latin was a short term thing...until I decided to be a ballerina) :oP (I ended up being a banker)

I don't speak French well, but I can beg for wine and find the bathroom. I also found that having taken a foreign language has helped me when traveling abroad. I found it much easier to pick up samll amounts of the language before the trip and normally came home with a pretty good ability to...well order wine and find a bathroom in several languages heh heh

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 12:51PM
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Wow! I was away for awhile and it has sure been busy here and that's a very nice thing to see!

After reading so many wonderful posts on this thread, i wanted to thank you all and to give you an update. I'm sorry i didn't post sooner but i was sooo very busy and sooo very tired. I'll give you that info later. First, I'll tell you about my fight to keep Latin!

I called Latin organizations to provide support. I called my students' parents for support. They wrote letters and called board members.

Result? Latin is SAFE!!! In fact, not only is Latin still in the curriculum for next year, but the board approved Latin III for next year (students and parents have been begging for it for years) and Latin IV for the following year!

So, I finished a very exhausting year Tuesday and returned to school the remainder of the week to write curriculum FOR MY NEW TEXTBOOKS! My program is safe for next year and, since they put A LOT of money into textbooks, I think I'll be safe for a few years! [sigh of relief here!]

Again, i apologize for not reposting sooner. I was Getting lots of mammograms and seeing a doctor so much it felt like an affair, but it all turned out ok but quite a scare.

And I started my Masters degree in Curriculum and Instructuion and Principal certification. The courses are intensive and a bit of a drive, but interesting.

Oh...and in my spare time, I'm visiting my husband who is temporarily living a few hours from me (military) and STILL WAITING for my kitchen to be finished but, hey, I've only been kitchenless since February...

oh...and pecanpie? I loved your post about ASL! My youngest dd is severe and profound. She didn't learn ASL until her jr high school year, but she is fluent. I thought it was wonderful that your neighborhood did that for those kids! yea for you!!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2007 at 8:02PM
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Glad to hear from you again- thanks for the update and three cheers that it's all (Latin, mammogram, etc.!) good.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 10:31PM
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I studied 2 years of Latin and French in high school. I also studied 2 years of French in college.

I loved them. As a result of these studies many years ago, I can actually read a bit of other languages - Spanish and Portuguese.

I think languages are an excellent mental training, and very interesting.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2007 at 12:01PM
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