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Why World Languages ‘Open Many Doors’ for Any Student

Why World Languages ‘Open Many Doors’ for Any Student

Up-and-coming Lakota East freshmen who are debating whether or not to take a world language - and if so, which one - had to look no further than a World Language Fair that landed right in their junior school this month.

Foreign languages may not be a state graduation requirement, but it’s definitely an expectation from most colleges and universities and the only way to earn an honors diploma. The benefits are far-reaching for students not choosing the higher education path, too. “Taking a language opens so many doors. It’s a good option for almost any student, regardless of their future plans,” said Dana Chapman, a 33-year Spanish teacher at Lakota East High School.

Exposure was the goal of the new event that brought one East teacher from all four foreign languages - American Sign Language (ASL), French, Latin and Spanish - to both Liberty and Hopewell junior schools. With a barrage of competing electives, the team was especially focused on getting students in the pipeline sooner.

Why? Because for world languages especially, an early start gives students who discover a real affinity all four years to excel and develop their skills. On the contrary, it also gives students time to try a couple languages if their interests or plans change. 

Two hands holding a piece of paper divided into sections for Spanish, Latin, ASL and French

At the fair, eighth-graders were given a passport that encouraged them to explore different nuances of each language. For example, students might have learned that 60 percent of the English vocabulary is derived from Latin and that French is the official language of 29 countries on five continents. They saw sample projects, cultural artifacts, book samples and after-school club options. Students also left with a comprehensive handout that broke down the leading benefits of each language and testimonials from current world language students.

“I definitely realized that it’s more than just learning the language,” reflected Hopewell student Chloe Fox, who appreciated seeing the different projects attached to each course. “I’m definitely reconsidering my options because they all looked fun for different reasons.” 

Despite waning enrollment in world languages - East and West, combined, have seen a 7 percent decrease over the last three years - and some languages feeling it more than others, Lakota East French teacher and ring leader of the World Language Fair Tiffany Ashley is proud of the team’s collaborative culture.

Colorful tabletop display with three students looking at it and a teacher talking to them

“One thing our team works hard to do is encourage the language that students are most interested in and will best support whatever is next for them,” echoed Chapman, breaking down some considerations for each one:

  • ASL - A student who wants to use their language skills daily, doesn’t want to actually speak a language and is interested in learning more about the deaf community or ASL as a possible career path; 
  • French - A student who is interested in engaging in the second most learned language in the world, exploring career possibilities and travel opportunities, expanding vocabulary, boosting ACT/SAT scores, and learning about other cultures;
  • Latin - A student who doesn’t want to actually speak a language, is considering a future in medicine or law or looking to expand their vocabulary and/or bolster their SAT/ACT scores for college enrollment; and
  • Spanish - A student who wants to use their language skills daily, learning about other cultures, and aspires to work with the public in fields such as healthcare, business, hospitality, and foreign affairs. 

For students pursuing higher education, at least two years of any language is a necessity. But besides the positive correlation of a world language with higher ACT/SAT scores, Chapman affirms that students with more than two years typically “stand out” against other college applicants. 

“They are seen as more motivated and willing to go above and beyond,” Chapman said.

A tabletop display with two female students holding papers and looking at it

Ashley draws attention to the cross-curricular ties of world languages to other subjects like English and history, for example. Their conversations often end up leaning into something they learned in a different class. “They put it all together,” she said.

Like her colleagues, Ashley oftentimes puts her students in situations that require lengthy and spontaneous speaking in pairs or small groups. It’s a bi-monthly exercise she does with her AP students that's called “Cafe Conversation." It builds up students’ interpersonal skills, she says. 

“It’s also about understanding and relating to other cultures in other countries,” said Ashley, referring to Lakota East’s campus, singularly, as a microcosm of the United Nations. “We live in such a multicultural society and learning a language can only help you navigate that.” 

  • curriculum
  • world languages