Foreign languages open up new possibilities for students
By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer
A performance last spring from Argentine pop star Justo Lamas inside the Warren Woods Tower High School auditorium in Warren was a highlight for many WWT, Harper Woods and Center Line high school students.
They sang, danced and cheered in the aisles to the tune of Lamas’ rock hits. It also was a fun way for them to hone their Spanish language skills.
High school students learning a second language in the tri-country area has been tradition, but in recent years the foreign language offerings have trickled down to the middle school and elementary school levels.
Foreign language classes at a younger age give students a better chance at learning and retaining the language, educators say. It’s also recommended today’s students learn a second language to prepare for careers in a global economy. The new high school state curriculum mandates that went into effect this year, in which students must have two world language credits, is another reason for promoting foreign languages. The world languages portion is expected to take effect for the class of 2016, according to Michael LaFeve, Roseville Community Schools assistant superintendent of instruction.
Spanish, French, German and Mandarin Chinese are among the many courses local schools offer, including a new Mandarin Chinese class at Gretchko Elementary School in the West Bloomfield School District.
Gretchko is a preschool through first-grade school, and four of its kindergarten classes and four first-grade classes are learning the language and culture under the guidance of instructor Pingping Liu. The students receive instruction in Mandarin Chinese 15 minutes a day, every day.
“This really is a wonderful opportunity. It is absolutely amazing what she has done with the children this year,” Principal Sally Drummond said. “They learn phrases, songs, sentences, and she infuses some culture, too. When you have it at a young age, you’re getting a better grasp on it. The students are like little sponges.”
The Gretchko program was the result of a partnership with Oakland County and Oakland Schools. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson recommended Oakland County schools make Mandarin Chinese classes available.
“Our parents were very accepting,” Drummond said.
Lamphere Schools implemented a new Mandarin Chinese program for preschool students this year. Superintendent Marsha Pando said the students participate in a traditional American program for half the day, and then switch gears for a half day for Mandarin Chinese language and culture.
There are about 35 students in the program, and parents have the option of enrolling their child for two, three or four days. Students have learned to count up to 30, 40 or 50 in the language, and songs are a large part of the program.
“They can recognize various objects,” Pando said. “It’s pretty impressive. It’s exceeded our expectations.”
There are plans to expand the program to other grades. The district’s high school students can take Mandarin Chinese in a consortium program, and Spanish is taught to students beginning at the third-grade level. French also is available in the high school level.
Middle school educators also are providing students with classes in which they study other cultures. Warren Woods Middle School teacher Tammy Threet, for example, teaches a number of world language and world cultures classes.
Last fall, Threet and her colleagues in the Warren Woods Public Schools district welcomed teacher Xiuqing Wang of Qufu, China. For two years, Wang will teach the WWPS students about the Chinese culture, including the Mandarin Chinese language and the country’s customs. She’ll also spend time with students at Wolfe Middle School in Center Line Public Schools.
Over at Adams High School in Rochester Hills, about 375 students are learning to speak German with Janie Barner, who teaches third-, fourth- and Advanced Placement German. The students use various materials to study the language, and oral interaction is strongly emphasized. Any student can enroll in the course. The school also offers Spanish and French classes.
“A shrinking world and work environment means our students must learn another language for America to continue to compete in the business world,” Barner said. “I believe it also enriches students’ lives personally by opening up new worlds and perspectives.”
The German program had the highest level Advanced Placement scores in the nation for the last two years, and was recognized by The College Board. The Adams students enroll in the German courses for various reasons.
“It’s crucial to get into a good college. Learning another language provides opportunities at the college and work level, and our students also have the opportunity to spend a summer in Germany attending school and living with a host family,” Barner said. “I believe that is a big draw to our program.”
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