Opinion: Students Should Start Learning Languages Earlier

3 mins read

Language in many educational systems serves as a requirement instead of a privilege. Students at M-A and thousands of other high schools are expected to participate in four levels of a language and be tested on their ability to speak, read, and write. 

One of the most important parts of communication is through language. With our family, friends, and even strangers, language breaks a barrier between people and their differences. The importance of language should be acknowledged by how much it plays a role in student’s lives, and language classes should begin at an earlier point within elementary school to better serve the learning capabilities of students in their future language education. Languages connect us to people all around the world; from our peers at school to people we meet abroad, languages are a significant part of our lives. 

My own experience with language has played a significant role in my childhood, and experience with high school language. 

I grew up speaking both English and Farsi, languages spoken by my parents. Throughout my childhood, I would speak to my parents in Farsi at home and English with my friends at school. I was able to communicate each language fluently without thinking about it or translating in my head. 

Despite Farsi classes not being available in school, I would practice my Farsi by singing, performing for my family, watching movies and TV shows, and even reading. 

Once I reached my preteens, I began to primarily speak English, with bits and pieces of Farsi around my house. I continued to listen and understand but lost my ability to speak easily, a category of language learning referred to as passive fluency

Although I didn’t realize it then, my fluency with my family’s language was one of the most sacred and important parts of my culture and individuality. My grandparents on my father’s side primarily spoke Farsi, and my ability to communicate to them depended on knowing their language. Language not only connected me to my relatives but also allowed me to process words and phrases in a different way than my peers. Instead of directly trying to think of a translation for what I was thinking at times, Farsi allowed me to express my thoughts in an alternate way using words that didn’t have a meaning in English. 

After experiencing my first couple years of Spanish class at Hillview, I realized the difficulty of learning a second language as a teenager. Unlike Farsi, my home and family didn’t foster this new language, and I was unfamiliar with the complexities of Spanish. Even though I have continued to pursue Spanish at M-A, my ability to interpret language remains subpar to my childhood language. 

Rewatching the countless videos of my performances years later, I still wish I would be able to speak as fluidly as I once could. 

Alongside my experience with Farsi as a child, students at M-A have had similar experiences when learning in elementary schools. Despite the fact that one of the commonly taken languages at M-A is Spanish, many English-speaking students seem to lack the skills they are promised to learn by the end of their classes. Currently, M-A offers ten different levels of Spanish for native and non-native speakers, along with classes that dive into conversational Spanish with film and arts. Despite the vast amount of classes offered, students do not seem to retain much after taking these classes. 

Sophomore Daniel Matloub is currently taking Spanish III, and agrees as a former bilingual child that learning was much simpler during childhood. “When I was a kid, I spoke a little Farsi, which is the language that my parents speak. I don’t speak it anymore, but it was a lot easier to learn back then than now. So if you learn a language earlier on, it’s much easier to retain it, or to learn it in the future as well,” Matloub explained. Similarly to my experience, Matloub was able to recognize how much language learning as a child differed from current classes. 

Junior Alejandro Guitierrez felt the same way about learning Spanish in high school versus child. “Even though I’ve got to learn more vocabulary and talk to other people in Spanish, I feel it would be easier to learn at a young age because you can process language more easily,” Gutierrez said. 

Laurel and Encinal Elementary Schools have the option for students to enroll in the Spanish Immersion program, which focuses on educating elementary schoolers by teaching standardized subjects in both English and Spanish. Using the 90-10 Immersion Model, students are taught their “core” material primarily in Spanish, and over the course of a consecutive five years, students reach a point where they are taught both Spanish and English equally, and vice versa for native Spanish-speaking students. 

As opposed to the typical required three years in high school, Spanish immersion students were able to incorporate language practices into other subjects, which helped them understand the material more thoroughly. This process adds on to how learning at a younger age increases proficiency in language and student’s ability to use it in different contexts.

As well as spending time with the same group of students for consecutive five years, Collins was able to incorporate her language abilities into everyday life. “I use Spanish a lot, not just in school, but also when I’m traveling and working with kids.” Collin’s ability to communicate with kids in the schools from the Costa Rica service trip allowed her to connect with the community and practice her speaking skills. 

My experience learning Farsi was crucial to expanding my perspective on language. All students deserve to properly learn languages, so it is essential to begin at a young age.

Isabel is a sophomore at M-A beginning her first year of journalism. She is excited to write about exciting events and subjects. Outside of school, some of her hobbies include playing tennis, water polo and swimming for M-A, and reading, drawing, and writing.

Latest from Blog