A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Fluent yet?

Come high school, every student has to take this class. No, not Algebra, Government, or Biology. A foreign language.

Depending on the high school a student attends, the available choices may vary. As for Parkdale, languages ranging from Spanish to Japanese, French to Arabic are offered. However, the PGCPS school system seemingly expect students to be partially fluent within only two years of studying the language.

In Prince George’s County (PG County), it is a graduation requirement to either take a foreign language for two years during your high school years or a completer class which can include classes to strengthen everyday skills such as: Home Education, Child Development and an assortment of Business classes.

Some lower level schools do help students to achieve these language credits before entering high school. Immersion schools, or even regular middle schools such as Greenbelt Middle School provide the option of enrolling in Spanish 1 and 2 under a high school credit for advanced students.

Other schools, such as Paint Branch Elementary in College Park, Maryland, which is not an immersion school, teach their students the Chinese language starting in Pre-Kindergarten.

“Chinese, on a scale of 1-10 is an 11,” said Paint Branch fourth grader Samantha Eury on the difficulty of learning Chinese.

Students used to start learning the language in sixth grade, but a few years ago, schools like Paint Branch began to teach students foreign languages, with the expectation of early proficiency. .

“We are learning regular science in Chinese making it harder for me to learn science because I don’t completely know the language yet,” said Eury.

Chinese is one of the toughest languages to learn, and for schools to think that students who have not fully mastered their home language to learn one of the toughest languages could be problematic.

While it is challenging to learn a foreign language as a young child, research has shown the younger someone is, the easier it is to learn a second language, according to Sharon Perkins, writer of “Why Is it Easier for a Child to Learn a New Language Than an Adult?”

At the same time, foreign language requirements are kind of similar for high school students. The problem is some students do not understand English grammar, even if that is the language they’ve spoken their whole lives. When they go to learn the grammar of an unfamiliar language, they do not understand the terms being thrown at them.

Senior Sam Obasi attended Robert Goddard French Immersion School where he studied French starting in Kindergarten and began Russian in sixth grade.

“Since I was in a French-immersion school it only took me about 3 years to become fluent in the language” said Obasi.

But what about those who aren’t attending an immersion school. How can they be expected to become so fluent so fast?

“Without motivation, it is difficult to accomplish anything, especially learning a language,” said Obasi.  “When you learn a language, you are not only learning their vocabulary or sentence structure. You are learning an entire culture, their dialect and many other factors.”

As students grow and become more independent, their interests drive how and what they learn. Many teachings of a foreign language–especially if required and not selected by choice– will seem irrelevant and boring, sometimes making a language harder to learn.

“With the right instruction I feel like it should take at least three to four years for a high school student to be fluent in a language,” said Obasi.

Many students are going up against one another when it comes to languages courses because many have a strong background while others are just starting off. How motivated a student is will definitely contribute to how successful they are in learning a foreign language.

But for schools to expect students to be fluent in languages such as Chinese in such a short time is unrealistic due to how hard the language is itself.