Foreign language classes turn hi-tech at valley middle schools
November 3, 2010
By Sebastian Moraga
Learn about new cultures, check. Expand your horizons, check. Talk to people from other nations, check.
Drive mom and little sister crazy? Check.
The benefits of learning foreign languages are many, as eighth-grader Darcy Dittbrenner will attest.
“I try to confuse my mom a little,” the Chief Kanim Middle School student said. “She’s the one who wanted me to learn Spanish.”
Sometimes, Dittbrenner will talk to her mom in Spanish. Sometimes, she will talk to her 11-year-old sister in the tongue of Cervantes.
“I said, ‘Hola, niña’ to her and my mom laughed and laughed and laughed,” Dittbrenner said. “My sister thought it was an inside joke and said, ‘You guys are just being mean to me.’”
“Hola, niña” is Spanish for “hi, girl.”
As recently as last year, tight budgets had all but eliminated foreign language classes at the middle school level.
“We were unable to keep the teachers of foreign languages at the middle level, but we thought we should continue,” Chief Kanim technology teacher Theresa Frank said.
Enter Rosetta Stone, a computer program that has allowed middle schools to offer a foreign language curriculum.
The program is the only way, Chief Kanim Principal Kirk Dunckel said, the school could continue offering a language program.
“Since it’s a computer program, there was no need to hire a full-blown foreign language teacher,” Dunckel said.
Children love the program, Frank said. They also love the looks they get around the dinner table.
“I’ll say things like, ‘Pass the whatever,’ in Spanish,” said eighth-grader Dylan Miller. “Like, the other day I said, ‘I have to go to bed’ in Spanish and my mom had to ask me what I had said. It’s pretty cool.”
It’s Frank’s job to teach the program as part of her class. So, in addition to the computers and keyboards, the room is filled with cards that say things like “gato,” “perro,” and the spelling-challenged “buenos tardes.”
The program is available at all three middle schools, Frank said. As a tech teacher, teaching languages via a computer fits well with the rest of her curriculum, she said. Rosetta Stone is 30 percent of the students’ grade.
The program has a password, and audio and voice-recognition features, to keep track of a student’s progress and not confuse it with someone else’s.
Students who take the class will learn enough to go to high school knowing what a foreign language is about, Frank said.
The program is available to sixth, seventh and eighth grades, a total of about 1,600 children, she added.
It’s not perfect. The voice-recognition software sometimes balks, forcing students to repeat themselves. Some students said they could use a little variety, too.
“I’d like to learn French,” eighth-grader Amber McNaughton said. “My mom spoke it.”
Chanel Harrell, who knows a little about variety, echoed her classmate.
“I like French,” she said. “I’m part French, Hawaiian, Portuguese and Puerto Rican.”
Dunckel said there’s no money right now for more programs.
Nonetheless, students like learning from a screen instead of a book, Frank said.
“It’s a big attraction,” she said. “Not just learning something new, but learning something new on a computer.”
Eighth-grader Isaiah Casey agreed.
“It’s much better,” he said, “to do this instead of slaving away midnight after midnight.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.