Farming, the Aeneid, truth-or-dare find place in foreign language
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Juggling an essay for English, flashcards for french and 10 sentences to write for her Spanish 4 class, junior Audra Nepstad often considers screaming. She keeps confusing Spanish subjunctive endings with French conjugations. Her head hurts, and she wants to give up for the night.
“It’s hard because you want to be able to express yourself as well as you can in your home language,” Nepstad said. “That’s when I just have to take a deep breath and realize, okay, in a couple years this will be a joke.”
Nepstad, who aspires to be a translator as well as volunteer for the program World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, has taken Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese in high school. She strives to be able to communicate enough to get a job and be successful wherever she goes.
Although taking a foreign language class is not a requirement to graduate high school, some colleges require it according to counselor Tina Mitchell.
Students are also able to test out of the starting level college language classes by scoring well enough on exams, saving time and money. In a multilingual world, students are noticing benefits to learning another language. Mitchell noted enrollment in recent years has increased.
“People want to hire those who know more,” senior and French 4 student Di Xie said. “One of the hardest things to learn in life is a language, so the more languages you know, the more people you are going to be able to understand and the more willing people will be to hire you.”
There are more benefits than just these according to Gipson.
“Respecting our fellow humans’ different cultures, well … it’s important to understand that everybody has a different perspective on life,” French teacher Karen Gipson said. “It is important to be respectful and mindful that somebody might have a different world- view than you.”
Xie, who was born in Japan to two Chinese parents and was recently naturalized as a United States citizen, understands this importance of learning a language.
“Speaking [Chinese] is a way that I am able to connect with my heritage and connect to my culture,” Xie said. “But also it’s my parents’ first language, so it’s the easiest way to communicate.”
Aside from her parents, all of Xie’s relatives live in China or work in Japan. To speak to them, she must practice and speak Chinese. While Xie is able to deftly switch between English and Chinese, most native English speaking high schoolers are not so fortunate.
Most American foreign language classes start so much later
than those of other countries that enthusiastic high school foreign language departments can only teach students so much about a language before a wall of frustration is drawn up according to Gipson.
“Look at our foreign exchange students that come here, they are 16 years old and they’re absolutely fluent in English with no trouble,” Gipson said. “Our kids are always so impressed by that, [but] they started learning English when they were seven. By the time you’re
16 or 17 years old, it gets to be really difficult to form those new language patterns.”
Language patterns such as the sounds English speakers are used to forming, as well as word order and conjugation, don’t always match with those of other languages. Latin teacher Zachary Puckett noted that foreign language are not simply English with different words.
“It’s not a perfect one to one correlation between one word in Latin or Spanish and another word in English, Puckett said.
Puckett hopes to see Latin and other languages offered at the middle school level to diversify the high school program and alleviate some frustrations.
Freshman Zach Hill has only been taking Spanish for two years, but his teachers, Anna Jackson at West Middle School and Paul Rosen at Free State, have already made an impact.
“What has impacted me the most … that I see a lot in language teachers, is how much they care and how much they want you to learn about this because obviously it’s very important to them,” Hill said.
Gipson uses games such as “translator truth or dare” and cake walk to get students moving, and Puckett’s students read Virgil’s Aeneid in the original Latin. Spanish teacher and department head Stu Strecker is famous for not allowing his students to sit down until they answer a question in Spanish.
“I want people to come into the next level of their language jour- ney with a joy in speaking the language, but also, more than anything, with a sense of self-reliance in a language,” Strecker said. “Especially in the age of cell phones, students want to fall back [to translators] first thing … if you immediately go to the phone, you’ll never be automatic with the language. You have to develop that yourself without that kind of crutch.”
Stecker uses games and content to keep students on their toes. The Spanish 4 and 5 classes each watch two movies per year and read multiple books.
“The one thing that I tell students and parents always is that your level of focus and engagement are the biggest determiners of how much you’re going to progress in the language,” Strecker said.
Having been a student of German at an American military base in England and at Free State, senior and German 4 student Jacob Schepp cited Stecker has one of his most impactful teachers.
“Mr. Strecker had the most gusto,” Schepp said. “He made you speak all the time, which in my opinion it really helps to repeat stuff … he wouldn’t yell them at us, but he would be speaking loudly and we would repeat the phrase back and then we’d watch foreign films so we could hear it.”
To anyone considering giving up for the night or forever, Gipson offers a final word of advice.
“You can always come to me or any of your language teachers for assistance,” she said. “We are always happy to help you. We want you to be successful, but we want you to feel comfortable to make mistakes in our classroom.”