No English allowed

LOTE makes changes to remove the speech of English in class

The start of the school year has brought important changes to the language department. Now, all students learning foreign languages will be hearing little or no English in the classroom, a major change that is meant to help students improve their linguistic abilities.

“Because we have mixed classes, meaning that we’re all Pre-AP, [in the past] that was a little bit difficult, and some students were at one level and some were at another level,” Spanish teacher Mallin Hernandez said. “And so this year, what we’ve done is have all the teachers, ASL, Spanish, French, and Chinese all came to a consensus that even though our classes are mixed, our students are there to learn that language and to be exposed to that language for whatever reason that they’re in that class.”

In recent years, only students taking Advanced Placement (AP) language classes were exposed to just the target language in the classroom. Students in the less experienced classes, like Spanish 1 through 3, often used English to supplement their learning. Now, teachers are attempting to become more consistent with the practice of speaking only the target language.

“I don’t know if we’ve always followed [the policy], but we’re trying to make a commitment to following that,” French teacher Melody Mozley said. “And mainly it’s about the students speaking. It’s nothing different. I think the kids are so used to, if they ask a question, then we answer them in English, just to speed things up. And this year we’re willing to slow the whole pace of the class down in order to just answer the question in French or the target language.”

The increased practice is likely to improve grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, and general language skills like reading and writing, even if it takes more time and effort in class. However, some English speaking will continue in classes with students new to the target language.

“It’s kind of level-appropriate,” Spanish teacher Seth Sartain said. “Like for my Spanish 3 class, I maybe have only said like 1 sentence of English this year. But for Spanish 1, it’s not as practical. It’s kind of just to the extent that’s possible. In 3 and up, there’s pretty much no English. In 2, there’s very little English.”

For students who are not fluent in the target language, constant practicing in class can be difficult. But as they become more experienced in their language abilities, the amount of English spoken in class will decrease.

“I do support with some English,” Hernandez said. “Because mine are at level 2 now. And so they’ve only had one year, but they know a lot. They know a lot more than they think they know. And I use a lot of cognates, which are words that sound and mean the same in both languages, so that makes it more comprehensible.”

Even in the first few weeks of the semester, teachers have noticed significant improvement in the students as a result of using the language consistently in class.

“Things have changed,” ASL teacher Edward Bart said. “I mean honestly, I think the students have been doing 100 percent better. Their skills both in producing the language and in thinking through the language have really come through quite a bit just this week and a half. And I really think it’s because they’re forced to have to think in the target language, and then I’m really able to see their skills come through.”

Feedback from students, despite some initial struggles, have been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to the language teachers.

“Most are reacting to it well,” Bart said. “I haven’t seen any complaints, other than the regular, ‘oh we have to work’ complaint. But I haven’t seen any negative reactions to it at all.”

While the practice may be difficult for students at first, language immersion is something that all of the teachers can relate to and work with.

“All of the Spanish teachers, we’ve been teaching long enough to see if they’re not understanding, and we’ll explain it,” Sartain said. “And plus, we’ve been there. We’ve all had to learn languages and stuff. Mrs. Hernandez, she grew up, she had to learn English in school. I had to learn languages in school too. So we know where they’re coming from, we know what they’re going through.”

Encouraging students to forgo English in foreign language classes will hopefully turn out to be a step in the right direction in order to improve their skills.

“With our Spanish classes, with our language classes, our intention is always that we’re meant to be submersion classes where the students are exposed to the language all the time,” Hernandez said. “And by exposing them to the language, they are exposed to the culture as well, because the language is tied into the culture. We’ve just made it more consistent.”