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Early in the school year, our administrative team and foreign language teachers began discussing goals for our foreign language program. We began with two major questions:

  1. What languages should we be offering?
  2. What are our goals for language acquisition at two key transition points: middle school to high school and high school to college?

Marshall currently offers Spanish, French, German and Latin — a remarkable number of choices for a school our size. A study of local public schools revealed that Spanish and German were the most common languages. A study of Minnesota independent schools revealed that Spanish, French and Chinese were the most common. Nationally, Spanish (73% of enrolled students) and French (15%) remain the top-studied languages K-12.

When we reviewed our language options, though, it became clear that we needed to add the study of Chinese back into our program. According to a study from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the study of Mandarin has tripled in recent years. Over the next decade, China’s importance on the world stage will continue to grow, and our students should be prepared with a better understanding of both Chinese culture and language. As a school with a mission to educate global citizens, China cannot be ignored.

Mandarin coming to the Middle School
Toward that end, next year all students in grade 6 will take Mandarin. We chose 6th grade as a partial response to our second key question: We want our students to be capable of starting high school with the skills necessary to enter a Level 2 HS course. To establish this foundation, it is important that students have two to three solid years of the same language in MS. As Chinese is a tonal language, it requires a more time to master than German, Spanish, and French. Therefore, giving all students exposure to Chinese in 6th grade should give them a leg up if they want to continue their study of Chinese in later years.

Starting in 7th grade, all students will now get a choice of languages to study over the final two years of MS. (Next year, the choices will be French, Spanish, and German. Chinese for 7th graders will be an option in 2012-2013, when we will continue to review how many languages the school can support.) Currently, we offer Latin as a grade 7 language for all students. Next year, Latin will be embedded into a new language arts course that will focus on writing. (Which will be the focus of another, later blog entry.) Latin as a stand-alone language will continue to be an option for study in HS.

While we only require two years of a language in the upper school, by giving all our MS students solid skills in their formative years, they should have the foundation necessary to study a foreign language through Level 5 (Advanced Placement), if they wish. This is not something they can do if they just begin studying a language in high school.

In our community survey at the beginning of the year, Marshall’s emphasis on foreign language development was strongly supported by parents, who placed it on par with math, science, writing, and English. This is a strong endorsement of our global mission.

Unfortunately, this type of commitment is not common. While the study Chinese is growing, overall the ACTFL estimates that only 18% of American students are studying ANY second language — this at a time when our economy is more depended on global connections than ever. The study of a second language has long been the norm in Europe, and ten times more Chinese students are coming to the US to study than visa versa.

Check out this 43-second YouTube clip If you need any other reason to study another language.