Students say they use foreign languages daily

Thursday, March 2, 2006

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Photos by Christopher Anderson⁄The Gazette
Lynette Mason gives the thumbs up to her teacher after completing an assignment in her Spanish class.

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Laurem Klein (second from left) asks teaching intern Catherine Currano a question about her Spanish class assignment during class on Friday at Laurel High School.

Local foreign language students, who already use their skills at part-time jobs and have friends who are not native English speakers, are at the forefront of global trends that make learning a second language as important as ever, educators say.

Colleges and employers are starting to demand more language skills, especially in the business world, where being monolingual is increasingly a liability, said Andrea Morris-Coutreyer, the foreign language chairwoman at Laurel High School.

‘‘A lot of employers are finding out, ‘my employees need to know a second language for us to be successful,’” she said.

Other fields where educators said a second language is particularly useful are law enforcement, medicine, international relations and intelligence.

Emilie Shipman, the foreign language chairwoman at Pallotti High School, said colleges are asking more of students.

‘‘They’re looking for consistency: three years of the same language instead of one of this one and that one and another,” she said. ‘‘I think they want to see proficiency.”

To rise to the challenge, schools are considering offering more languages and expanding immersion programs. Prince George’s County offers two immersion programs at select schools.

Kindergartners through twelfth-graders in the French immersion program receive virtually all their instruction in French. Students countywide can apply for the popular 20-year-old program through a lottery. It is offered at Robert Goddard French Immersion School in Seabrook and John Hanson Montessori French Immersion School in Oxon Hill. Both schools serve kindergarten through eighth-grades.

Flores said graduates of the program have used the language in careers.

She said the school system is looking into expanding its Spanish immersion program, started six years ago at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Chillum, a community with a large Spanish-speaking population. The program devotes equal time to English and Spanish instruction. With China’s emergence as an economic superpower, Chinese is among languages gaining international importance.

Arabic, Korean and Russian also are becoming more popular, educators said.

‘‘It’s a big demand now because of all the global business that the United States is doing around the world,” said Maria Flores, supervisor of Foreign Languages for the Prince George’s County Public School System.

Maryland’s deaf population also creates a demand for students who know American sign language, Flores said.

‘‘We are trying to find colleges that will prepare students who want to teach sign language in public school,” she said.

In previous years, Laurel students received instruction in Chinese, Japanese and Russian by watching classes on television.

‘‘We are very interested in the next 10 years ... to have courses, either in-house or by distance learning programs, where students could start to study some of the other recommended languages,” Shipman said.

Pallotti High School students can choose from French, Spanish and Latin.

Laurel High School has French and Spanish programs and Morris-Coutreyer said she would like to add Latin.

Spanish-speaking students at Laurel High can take a native speakers class, which supplements but does not replace English instruction.

Morris-Coutreyer said the goal is to improve students’ skills in their first language.

Laurel High School Junior David Rodriguez, a fluent Spanish speaker whose parents spoke the language in the home when he was growing up, is in a traditional program but said Spanish class has helped him improve his writing skills.

‘‘Before I was able to speak Spanish, but the writing was a problem for me,” he said.

Rodriguez, who also learned French from his grandfather, wants to use his language skills as a restaurant owner.

Several Spanish students at Laurel said they already are using the language at part-time jobs.

‘‘I work at a restaurant and the people in the back, the cooks and the dishwashers speak Spanish,” said junior Abi Adeyeye. ‘‘I can’t speak fluently, but it makes it easier to communicate.”

Junior Lynnette Mason said she had little choice but to learn workplace Spanish. She said all employees at her restaurant other than herself speak Spanish as their first language. ‘‘I had to use it,” said Mason, who plans to continue studying Spanish and use as a doctor.

Sophomore Krishna Dalsania knows four languages. The immigrant from India moved to the United States at age 9, and speaks English, Hindi and Gujarati fluently. Her Spanish is weaker, but she has been forced to improve because patrons often think she is Hispanic.

She says she has several Spanish-speaking friends who are helping her learn.

E-mail Steve Earley at