The State of Connecticut Department of Education requires that every high school graduate be exposed to at least two years of world languages. That requirement is understandable given the multicultural, multilingual, global society in which Americans live, and increasingly do business. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Inc. has established Standards for Foreign Language Learning.
These five standards are:
• Communication – so that students will communicate in a world language, in addition to English,
• Cultures – so students learn about, and gain some understanding of another world culture,
• Connections – so students transfer knowledge to and acquire information from other disciplines,
• Comparisons – so students compare their own language and culture with the acquired language,
• Communities – so students participate in the multilingual, multicultural, global society, locally and internationally.
Our urban students come from a rich variety of cultures with as many rich world languages; in fact, many of Hartford’s students are fluent in another language and are English language learners. Some come to the district with multilingual skills. These students are required, like all other Connecticut students, to fulfill the two or more years of world languages, before graduating. The problem with this is that the student may have to sit through at least two years of classes of a language he or she already masters.
Many of our non-English speaking immigrant and refugee students enter high school late in their young lives. They struggle through classes taught in English, learning subject-based jargon, which after two or so years, they barely understand. It is difficult for them to acquire the new language because their first language is used at home because their parents are non-English speakers. In addition, they are required to do an additional language, which more commonly would be Spanish or French. Some schools like the Asian Studies Academy (K-8) would offer Mandarin, while others offer German, Italian, or some other European language.
Several immigrant and refugee students expressed frustration of having to deal with sitting through Spanish or French classes when they already know the language. The teachers of some of these students have confirmed that they are wasting time in the classes because their knowledge of the language and culture is at a higher level than the courses require. Yet these students have to sit in other classes struggling with understanding what is said at the basic level, grasping the concepts being taught, discussing relevant topics, and analyzing situations, all in a language they barely understand.
These students should be offered another, less stressful avenue to fulfill the world language requirement. A test of language proficiency at the high school level can be used to determine if a student is competent enough in an already acquired language, to qualify for a relevant number of high school credits in that world language. If the student is successful, the time available by not having to take a world language class could be used to help the student’s English language development.
The more time available for English language studies, the faster the student would acquire the new language and the better the student will do in other courses. This means that immigrant and refugee students would graduate from high school at least one year earlier and more equipped to positively contribute to American society.