Illustration by Winnefer Wu

Language curriculum needs improvement

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Being multilingual is one of the most universally valued assets for a student to have in contemporary times. Yet, the school is failing to produce substantial results in pushing many students to fluency in their mandated foreign language classes.

The way the foreign languages are taught makes it hard for students to acquire the practical skills needed to use the language in their daily lives. They memorize lists of vocabulary with little context, and they learn how to configure sentences from formulas and textbook examples. Instead, students should be listening to audio of native speakers at normal pace regularly, and they should be learning how to engage in day-to-day conversations. Everyday speech, as opposed to formal address, should be prioritized to ensure that students can communicate with most native speakers on almost anything by the end of their mandated two years.

Being able to communicate ideas fluidly within two years is enough; proper grammar and syntax should be of secondary concern. Prioritizing the technical components of the languages will result in students spending more time with worksheets and no practical experience. More time should be spent in moving students out of their comfort zones to communicate orally. Videos of relevance, such as those that report on current events and trends, should be shown on a regular basis to stimulate students’ interests and challenge them to learn by actively listening for contextual patterns.

The greatest resource the school has to reform the curriculum lies in its demographic. Native Spanish and Mandarin speakers can be set up for a one-on-one program where they converse with foreign language learners. This is feasible to implement in various forms, such as in class or through club activities. Talking with native speakers is more effective than having students converse with other language learners, as the former can provide more insightful feedback on pronunciation and colloquial sense. Furthermore, one hour of instruction for foreign languages a day is not enough immersion. Similar to how babies pick up languages by listening and imitating, the longer students are immersed in their respective foreign language, the more adept they will be at learning it. Electives, such as art or choir, should be available to be taught in foreign languages so that students can spend an additional hour on real-life application of the language.

Although the curriculum currently does well in teaching students the rules of foreign languages, it needs to align its methods of teaching to fit students’ practical needs. For the first two years of instruction, students should be able to attain sufficient proficiency at the very least so that they may communicate with others.

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