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Losing Linguists

Spanish, French, and Mandarin are all language courses offered to CB students freshman year. But why do some students halt their language adventure after the two year requirement? Recently, there has been a stark decrease in the amount of CB students in the language department who continue onto the AP level for foreign language. For example, […]

Spanish, French, and Mandarin are all language courses offered to CB students freshman year. But why do some students halt their language adventure after the two year requirement? Recently, there has been a stark decrease in the amount of CB students in the language department who continue onto the AP level for foreign language. For example, 27 students were in Honors French III, but only seven continued onto AP.

The Talon sat down with Ms. Patricia Gallagher, director of Christian Brothers’ International Student Program and French teacher, and former Honors French III student Naomi Conley (‘19) to learn about more about the language department.

Ms. Gallagher began by telling stories about how she became interested in languages in the first place:

“It all started with my older sisters — they took Spanish and I really respected them so I decided to follow in their footsteps. One day one of my high school friends and I were talking and comparing Spanish and French notes at some point. I went, ‘oh my gosh, I really like the sound of French, I need to know that.’ It was that moment that I decided I wanted to take another foreign language.”

Naomi chose French over the other languages offered at CB because she wanted to live in France.

“I’ve always wanted to live in southern France, and I want to live in a more rural area where they mainly speak French,” she says. “My grandpa lived in France for awhile, and he always used to talk about it when I was little, and it just sounded beautiful.”

Not only did the language intrigue Naomi, but one of the reasons she came to CB was because the girl she was shadowing was planning to go to France with CB’s program. She admits that she “was excited to [take AP French], I wanted to get better at French, but due to scheduling, I couldn’t.”

Ms. Gallagher agrees there is a shift in attention needed to continue onto the AP level.

“There’s a big jump. When you think about it, you start a language at the high school level and in three years you’re supposed to master it. That’s not very long for a 45 minute class to master a foreign language.  It’s a lot of work, and if you’re not into it, it makes it tough.”

But proficiency in another language has more pros than cons, even when recruiting for future jobs beyond high school.

“In Europe, all business and sciences are done in German, but all arts are done in French,” Ms. Gallagher disclosed. “So, it really comes down to what kind of person you are.”

The studies from the ICEF (International College of Economics and Finance) has found that “almost one-half of all companies say that prospective candidates need to be fluent in a foreign language and a further 13% say that multilingual ability is a key selection criterion.”

But what’s the solution within the CB community? 

“The language department could do a better job broadcasting that there is other worlds out there,” Naomi suggests. “I think immersion trips could really accomplish that.”

In 2015, CB had an age-old tradition of hosting students from Avignon, France. That year, students who were enrolled in the French program could visit France with Ms. Gallagher and previous teacher Mrs. Howorun. I asked Ms. Gallagher why that tradition had been cut off. She dove into the story by describing that the partnership wasn’t 50-50, even when they did a previous trip in 2013 to Lyon, France.

“We took the train down to Avignon and these families met us. Our parents did so many great things for them. And then when we got there and it wasn’t quite the same. We had a couple kids who were really far from school and it wasn’t 50-50. It broke my heart again, it’s really hard to pull it off and be fair to the kids,” Ms. Gallagher revealed.

Although there is a slight chance of having another immersion trip to France, Naomi and Ms. Gallagher both encourage students to explore other languages beyond the ones offered at CB.

“So many cultures out that do exist and that are relevant, equal, and beautiful.” Naomi says.

No matter the motive behind students continuing their language excursions, hopefully they will continue on and encourage others to do the same. Whether they pique their interest through immersion trips or CB classes, may it be their first step to bilingualism.

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