by Sabina Jafri ‘20
The fundamentals of linguistic education can be summarized in one, simple goal: to teach students how, when, and why to say what to whom.
For years after MCPS declared that students could no longer be graded on their verbal performance in language classes, Spanish teachers at Sherwood and all over MCPS sought new ways to realize this goal. Deemed “too subjective,” the old practice of scoring students based on pronunciation and oral participation was eliminated from classrooms in 2013, leaving them virtually silent: a trait that no language class should posses.
“Students’ biggest hindrance in terms of achieving fluency is that they are afraid to speak,” said Spanish teacher Michele Bloom, who has endeavored to inject the verbal component back into her lessons by calling on every student to give answers aloud during class. “Plus,” she added enthusiastically, “we have started an activity called ‘Charlemos un Rato’ to get students speaking more.”
‘Charlemos un Rato,’ which directly translates to ‘Let’s Talk a While,’ is an activity that other Sherwood language teachers eagerly boast as well. It’s a segment done in every Friday in only Spanish 4 classes, during which students have multiple mini-conversations with their classmates.
However, teachers note that one weekly activity is not likely to improve students’ fluency significantly. “Proficiency in a language that is not spoken in the home is very hard to achieve and takes motivation, dedication and exposure from, to and for the learner” explained Spanish teacher Moira Kenyon. Limited by mere 45-minute class periods, it is difficult for high schoolers to develop strong passion for a language.
Spanish teachers at Sherwood are doing their best to fulfill what MCPS, despite its grading restrictions, deems a necessary facet of language classes: to prepare students to be linguistically and culturally competent in languages other than English.
According to National Standards for Foreign Language Learning, “the purposes and uses of foreign languages are as diverse as the students who study them … students study another language in hopes of finding a rewarding career in the international marketplace or government service. Others are interested in the intellectual challenge and cognitive benefits that accrue to those who master multiple languages. Still others seek greater understanding of other people and other cultures.” Despite the broad scope of this definition, it is important to remember the building blocks from which the true measure of language fluency can be derived: saber cómo, cuándo y por qué decir qué a quién. Como estudiantes, es nuestro trabajo honrar esta meta. In other words, language courses exist to teach students how, when and why to say what to whom. As students, it is our job to honor this goal.