Languages help our students better understand their world

Apr 06 2023

Languages help our students better understand their world

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
-Flora Lewis

Last Friday, we bid adieu to Upper School History and Middle School French teacher Dr. Caraway, his wife, and Madame Beaugendre as they accompanied 9 students for the second year in a row to the Texas French Symposium. At this event, our Cobras competed against students from other schools in a variety of activities around the French language, poetry, art, and song. As you would expect, Keystone students excelled and enjoyed themselves.

In the process, students and teachers also reaffirmed the benefits of taking a second language. While learning another language can help in looking for a job, there are also intangible benefits. (I will own my bias right here by acknowledging that I love learning languages and over my life, I studied French, Italian, Arabic, and Hebrew.)

Learning the way that people in other countries and cultures speak allows children and young adults to see the world in another way. Language reflects how people think, but it also influences and generates thought; consequently, acquiring another language enables students to think more broadly and in a more sophisticated fashion than if they only know one language.

Language acquisition also helps children understand their world in a more holistic way. They see events and trends more clearly and deeply than they would otherwise and their understanding of global issues grows and strengthens. They can contextualize the news and comprehend what is happening with more depth than previously.

Perhaps most immediately, seeing how people in other countries speak and think enables children to view their own country from a new vantage point. They can appreciate their culture and their home with nuance and maturity as opposed to having a narrow unidimensional view. Learning about other cultures and languages can dispel ignorance and stereotypes both at home and abroad.

Historically, interest in second language instruction has flowed as a result of world events. The study of Russian spiked in the late 1950’s after the launching of Sputnik during the Cold War, and colleges rushed to offer Arabic after 9/11 when it became apparent that the State and Defense Departments had a dearth of interpreters. German instruction became required in the 18th and 19th Centuries as the language of science, but lost favor particularly during and after World War I. The Japanese economic boom led to more courses in that language in the 1980’s, and Chinese has grown in popularity in the last two decades as China has turned into a world power. Of course, native speakers of Spanish, French and German have long lived in what is now Texas.

At Keystone, we are beginning to change the way we offer language instruction. For many years we have offered Spanish instruction in Lower School, continued with Spanish while adding French in Middle School, and progressed through Advanced Placement courses in both languages in Upper School.

Beginning next year, we will expand second language instruction in middle and high school. Students will continue with Spanish in fifth grade and take introductory French in sixth grade. This will enable them to choose a language to study more intensively starting in 7th grade. Over the two years of 7th and 8th grades, they will complete a year of either high school level Spanish 1 or French 1.

In high school, students can take either Spanish or French through AP Courses. Students in Spanish can take two College Board Advanced Placement courses while there is only one Advanced Placement course offered by College Board for French. To fill that gap, Keystone will also offer post-AP French 5 next year for the first time for students who wish to continue their study of that language in their senior year.

Not all students will pursue French or Spanish through senior year. However, all of them will gain some level of proficiency, and they will experience the joy of seeing their world anew by delving into another language and another mode of thinking. We wish them all bonne chance and buena suerte.

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