Schools across the United States offer language electives where students can learn a second language of their choice. While students enroll in these electives, the majority drop out after the second or third year to only meet the minimum requirements for many colleges and universities.
Leesville Road High School offers three languages as electives; Spanish, French, and Latin. With Spanish teachers being the most prominent, making up two-thirds of the language teachers, large groups of students enroll in the class.
Madame West, the sole French teacher at Leesville, teaches academic and honors French in both fall and spring semesters. “The downside to being the only teacher is that I don’t have anyone in the French program to collaborate with. However, [being the only teacher] I get to be more efficient later on because I don’t have to reteach class expectations because they [students] would have had me in the past,” said West.
However, with the large class sizes in the “beginning” classes (one and two), the numbers drop off when honors credit comes into play. The honors and AP classes consist of many National Honor Society members along with students who want to major or minor in the language. Hannah Harrison is a junior taking AP Spanish and expressed interest in continuation through college because of her experience “I have come to love Spanish very much and hope to minor in it because of the success I have had in classes at Leesville,” said Harrison.
Leesville does not require its students to take a language to graduate and knowing this decreases interest for students. The American Councils for International Education created a study in 2017, which claims that two-thirds of all European-Union adults can speak a second language. On the other side, about twenty percent of Americans claim to have some knowledge of another language.
As a result, students will gravitate towards languages they already know or speak at home. However, a large portion of language students are in the Latin classes. Arguably, Latin is a “dead” language, meaning the number of current speakers is extremely low. That brings the point of, if the language is not emphasizing communication, why should the schools continue to have multiple teachers in that field? Rather spreading out the opportunities for more languages, schools will place three to four teachers in one specific language.
One alternative to getting students into language classes is making it mandatory to graduate. However, by doing this, teachers feel it will not make a good impact. “You’d have students who would have to be there and not students who’d want to be there. Having it as an elective, you have more students who want to be in there and are more motivated naturally,” said West.
However, for some students, requirements for the class proved successful. Harrison attended St. Francis for nine years and was required to take the language class there. “It was mandatory for me to take Spanish all through elementary and middle school. So when I went to high school, I had an already deep understanding and liking of the language so thought it would be a good idea to continue,” said Harrison.
Although only offering three languages, Leesville also has clubs centered around languages like German Club. These clubs do not replace courses, but rather give groups of students a background in German culture and the language. Clubs like these also help students who are testing out of a language or are learning outside the school help prepare for those exams.
Melanie Altenkirch, is a junior as well as president of German Club. Altenkirch wanted to bring a new type of club to the Leesville community through her past and childhood. “I started German Club because I wanted to expand language interest and opportunity to learn German in our school. I think learning about other languages and cultures is very valuable to a well-rounded education and perspective, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to take a lead and add something to my school’s community,” said Altenkirch.
There are also clubs focused around languages offered at Leesville and attract many in the classes to participate. The engagement the clubs offer to students who may be unsure of a language, or maybe even considering taking that specific language is substantial. “I think opportunities should be more endorsed in our schools. Learning about other languages and cultures can be very eye-opening and interesting, and I think students should be pushed to explore them further,” said Altenkirch. The clubs give students the opportunity to meet the teacher and get a feel for the environment that goes on during class.
There are clubs offered for the course based languages and meet around once every two weeks. The meetings introduce cultural aspects behind the language, and also members participate in activities that can impact the community. For example, the clubs will volunteer or donate goods and time to different groups around Raleigh.
Students respond well to the introduction of these clubs branching into other languages, with German Club seeing as much as thirty to forty students at meetings. Clubs are essential to boosting student interest in learning languages, and without them, language classes will continue to shrink in size.
The introduction of multiple languages and expanding on the possible ways to innovate and improve the classes is crucial. Encouraging students to involve themselves in these clubs and classes can drastically change their outlooks and opinions. “You learn about other people and practices that are different from you, and you learn to appreciate that earlier. People who speak multiple languages become more aware of the cultural differences and being more tolerant, and that helps getting everyone get along better,” said West. It is never too late to learn a language, and with the growing possibilities at Leesville, now is the time to start.