What’s a second language worth? — Part 1

In elementary school my parents signed me up for this after-class Spanish lesson that took place at least once a week. My memory on the whole thing is fairly hazy–I can’t remember if I asked them to sign me up, how long it was precisely, or even how often it was, but I can remember feeling baffled about the idea of foreign languages in general. I mean, what was the point of them? I already knew English, and learning how to understand that had been tough enough.

While I do recall enjoying the small get-together where we sang songs to learn the days of the week and whatnot in Spanish, I also can remember feeling relieved the day I left, with a little Spanish-English dictionary as a present from the teacher for completing the program. There, I learned another language, I don’t have to do that again.

Middle school arrived with all of its inherent confusion; along with the fear that I would never learn how to handle lockers came the looming prospect of having to learn a foreign language. Again. But I already did it, I thought to myself as the language teacher at my school came to speak to the class.

“You don’t have to learn one yet,” she’d told us, as we squirmed impatiently in our tiny desk-chair combination seats. “But we offer foreign languages starting from eighth grade, so if you want to get a jumpstart on learning something that’s the time!”

Pffft yeah right! I’ll worry about it when I have to take one in high school.

I did my research; at my particular high school (which had grades from 9-12, for reference), we could either do one language for three years, or two different languages for two years in order to graduate. I opted for the former, thinking it would be less work.

My adventures in German are worth another post entirely; let’s just say I was the smart-alec in the back of the class who, when she was called, would smugly answer, “Es tut mir leid, Ich weiss nicht. Ich kann nicht verstanden.*”

Yeah. Total jerk. I know.

Three years passed, and I spent my senior year in high school enjoying the fact that I was done. I was all set for graduation. Despite being a rude brat to the German teacher, particularly in junior year, I had somehow managed a B+ average. I never needed to worry about taking a foreign language class again.

Then college came.

“Oh, you’re going to be an English major? Here’s the list of the required general education courses you need,” I was told. Upon perusing the list, I was utterly dismayed to find…

“I need four semesters of a foreign language?!” I demanded.

The man explaining the requirements smiled, either not noticing my distress or not caring. “Well, of course if you studied an AP course in a language in high school, we can count that toward your requirement,” he said.

I sat there, defeated for a moment, mulling over my options. Then, grimly, I went to the course listing to see what my choices were.

In middle school, we had only been offered Spanish, perhaps French. In high school, our options were those two in addition to German, Latin, and American Sign Language. College offered more than double that in options, including Asian languages.

Well, rather than feeling stupid for taking a beginner class in a language I already studied, let’s try something new.

Enter Japanese class.

—-

*I’m sorry I don’t know. I can’t understand.

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