How students choose their foreign language classes

Apr 29, 2014

Participation in foreign languages classes is highly encouraged for high school students in Missouri, and many colleges require them for admission.

French, German, Spanish, Latin, Japanese and Chinese are all offered to students at Columbia Public Schools. But how do students pick the language they are going to learn?

At Lange Middle School, students worked on pronouncing their new Chinese vocabulary words. These words were placed on different cards. The students then matched them together to form sentences. This game was led by Nina Wang, who teaches Chinese at Lange, thanks to a program called the Confucius Institute.

This program brings teachers from China to the U.S. to teach the language in the schools. Suzanne Yonke is the Coordinator of World Languages for Columbia Public Schools. She said the school district chooses what languages to offer based on ties, like this, to Missouri.

"All the languages that we offer, as I’ve said, have connections to Missouri economically, historically, and that is something that drives students' interests. So the interest of the students, of course, is taken into account,” Yonke said.

Jason Jolley is the communications chair for the Foreign Language Association of Missouri. He said when students understand the significance of a different language, they’re more inclined to learn it.

“When students perceive, I think, that a language is important politically, for business, for their careers, they become interested in that,” Jolley said.

Yonke said all of the languages offered are practical to use in the current global economy, but that deciding on a language is a more personal choice.

“It usually begins with interest, it usually begins with culture. Are you interested in the culture? Do you love that food? Has your sibling taken that language and liked it or not liked it? You know, so there’s just a whole bunch of factors that go into it,” Yonke said.

Handy Williamson is the Vice Provost for International Programs at the University of Missouri. He said in addition to languages, it’s important to teach the next generation about other cultures.

“Things will be changing and there’s a mindset to make sure that our students, those who will be leading this state and our nation in the future, are positioned to do that,” Williamson said. “And they can do that better by being aware of the culture and being able to speak the language.”

But until then, students can have fun learning the different languages through games, such as matching.