By: Daphne Palmeter
d.tech’s world language program has grown and changed dramatically in the four years since its inception. In the beginning, it was comprised mainly of online courses that, more often than not, left students frustrated and confused when it came to trying to complete their assignments, let alone actually learn a new language.
The first of these programs was an online course from Utah’s Brigham Young University (BYU) that offered a wide variety of languages for students to learn, including French and Japanese. Unfortunately the BYU program was quickly deemed too challenging and complicated for students to use successfully because of its online limitations, and was replaced by the slightly less frustrating Middlebury online language program the next year. However, this interface was still hard to use, the lessons were unclear, and students felt that they weren’t really learning, so many ended up dropping their course. Simply put, it “sucked so bad,” says senior Jose Obregon. “It was really bad, so I dropped out and then I talked to Ms. Cerra and then she put me in Skyline Spanish,” he says. Obregon also commented that he wishes there had been more language choices.
These days it’s a little different. “A student can pretty much decide what route they want to take when doing language,” says Lilia Pineda, one of d.tech’s two Spanish teachers, and the instructor in charge of coordinating the world language program. “We’re pretty flexible with that, which I think works well with personalization.” Incoming students and other students who have yet to complete the two-year world language graduation requirement now have a variety of options. The Middlebury program is still available to students looking for a wider range of language choices, but recently more have been turning toward community college language courses through concurrent enrollment or making the decision to participate in the increasingly popular in-house Spanish program. However, students who wish to take a language other than Spanish don’t have much of a choice when it comes to which class they can take, as Spanish is the only language offered on the d.tech campus.
According to Pineda, it’s important for students to choose the language program that works best for them. Although there is more variety in community college courses, they also tend to be more traditional, and students don’t have as much of an opportunity to be self-directed and practice design thinking in the same way that they do in the in-house program. College courses can also be more challenging and less accommodating than the d.tech Spanish courses, and have resulted in some students dropping them.
As a native Russian speaker whose second language is English, junior Kirill Naumov has an interesting perspective: “I can compare my learning of English in Russia to my learning of Spanish here . . . it’s pretty much the same, because I’m learning another language in the language of the environment.” He says that when he was first taught English, he learned a lot of grammar rules, but he couldn’t speak or understand much of the language until he moved to the U.S. Naumov said it’s a little bit different with learning Spanish at d.tech. He had initially intended to test out of the language requirement by taking the SAT Subject Test for Russian, which is one of the alternative ways to fulfill the foreign language graduation requirement should you already speak a language other than English, but after learning that it had been discontinued a number of years back, he decided to cut his losses and pick up a third language in order to fulfill the graduation requirement, which will also look better for colleges. A member of d.tech’s in-house program, he enjoys the curriculum and feels that his Spanish class stays true to d.tech’s mission, incorporating design thinking and self-direction into the lessons. While he says he’s not a big fan of the idea of full immersion classes, which are the standard at some schools, he does think that his Spanish class strikes a good balance, and that he is actually learning, a stark contrast to the reviews of the previous online programs.
Pineda’s biggest issue with the language program is its lack of consistency over the years, posing the question, “How many of you guys could’ve loved learning language?” She does believe that the language program is improving with all of the changes, though. “It just takes time,” she says, “This year’s not gonna be perfect, next year’s definitely gonna be much better.” Currently the language department is working with Skyline College to bring more languages to d.tech’s program, and may bring back Mandarin Chinese or introduce a course in Portuguese based on student interest. The language department also plans to put together a list of resources for students, cataloguing what students have tried in the past and describing what has worked and what hasn’t, as well as making their own recommendations. Its goal is to enable students to be self-directed and take the reins on their language education, encouraging them to learn a language they’re interested in and passionate about, while having clear expectations of what they’re going to get out of their chosen program. Moving forward, they plan to do all that they can to give every d.tech student the opportunity to fall in love with a language.