The Wessex Wire

The Student News Site of West Essex Regional High School

The Wessex Wire

The Wessex Wire

OPINION: Schools must prioritize conversational foreign language

Foreign+language+students+are+told+to+do+paperwork+instead+of+practing+useful+language+skills+for+real+life.
Staff photo by JJ Rella
Foreign language students are told to do paperwork instead of practing useful language skills for real life.

Since learning “rojo” and “azul” in kindergarten, foreign languages have been a part of our school education. It is arguably one of the most important, applicable skills learned in school: Whether at work, abroad or just in everyday conversation, students have a very good chance of encountering someone who speaks Spanish, Italian, French or Mandarin. Knowing these languages can be helpful or even necessary. 

“Learning other languages helps students to embrace diversity and foster a greater appreciation for other cultures,” AP Spanish teacher Caroline DaCosta said. “This promotes greater tolerance, empathy and acceptance of others.”

But many American high schoolers, no matter how many levels of language classes they take, never progress to where they can feel comfortable having even a basic conversation in it. The problem, we suspect, lies in how American education standards approach the act of teaching it—and how American students look at learning it.

Achieving fluency purely by engaging with the language in school (three to four hours a week, at most) is near impossible. True mastery requires students to understand its importance and put in the work, both in and out of the classroom. 

“Students have to be motivated to increase their own proficiency,” AP French teacher Heidi Monkowski said. “They have to speak the language outside of class.”

In many European countries, learning a foreign language is a given part of education. While only 20 percent of students in the United States know another language, 96 percent of students in Spain have oral fluency, according to the Pew Research Center. Without an emphasis on learning a foreign language, U.S. programs are not given the focus they deserve.  

“I think that in the United States, more of an emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of speaking more than one language,” DaCosta said. “The cognitive, social and professional benefits…are undeniable.”

But in America, the way foreign languages are taught doesn’t have full mastery in mind. Students are taught how to conjugate verbs and fix problems with irregular subject-verb agreements. They memorize vocabulary terms, copy sentences from textbooks and interpret the readings they’re assigned. But these components alone won’t teach students how to speak cohesive sentences or have a real conversation.

The standards of teaching foreign languages must change. Teachers should be less concerned with how progress looks on paper and instead  help students progress toward fluency. Studying abroad is so pivotal in picking up foreign languages because you are immersed in it. As much as possible, U.S. classrooms should be the same way. 

Behind the Bylines
Gabby Angelo, Editor in Chief
Gabrielle Angelo, but you can call her Gabby, is an Editor in Chief for the 2023-2024 Wessex Wire. She enjoys spending time down the shore swimming in the ocean, eating ice cream and watching the sunsets, and loves anything  "The Vampire Diaries" related! On the weekends you can find her hanging out with friends and family making core memories.  
Eliana Rosen, Editor in Chief
Eliana Rosen is an Editor in Chief of the 2023-2024 Wessex Wire. When she isn’t spending time with friends and family, she is probably listening to Taylor Swift and Noah Kahan on repeat. She spends her summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, her home away from home.   
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