Parents and students learned about the foreign language courses being offered to middle and high school students in the Arlington Public Schools (APS) on Thursday, Jan. 14.
Dr. Rick Jackson, chairman of the World Languages Advisory Committee, discussed the levels of functional proficiency, as well as the benefits of learning a foreign language. Functional proficiency is the ability to get through daily life in another culture and to hold complicated conversations. There are a number of levels of proficiency, and Dr. Jackson pointed out that getting to even a low level of functional proficiency takes years of study.
Marleny Perdomo, Arlington's world language instruction supervisor, spoke in-depth about the various programs offered by Arlington County. Some programs such as Arabic, Chinese and Japanese are primarily or entirely offered through distance learning programs.
Chinese I is offered in a classroom setting at Wakefield High School, but any other Chinese courses are only through distance learning. Spanish is available to many county students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and the county offers Spanish-language immersion programs in some middle schools. Immersion students can earn up to two high school credits while in middle school.
Perdomo encourages parents to enroll their children early in language programs, as an earlier start leads to greater proficiency. She also mentioned that Arlington has once again applied for a federal grant for the STARTALK program, which will introduce Arlington students to Arabic or Chinese in summer classes at Northern Virginia Community College. For schools that don't offer all of the language programs, Perdomo advises parents to speak with their school's principal about adding those programs. Continuing education for students who have reached the maximum number of APS courses is available on a case-by-case basis, and she said that the school district is committed to helping students achieve in their chosen language.
Jennifer Frey, a student at H.B. Woodlawn High School, then spoke about her experiences in both the county foreign language program where she is taking both Chinese and Spanish, as well as her experience last summer on a six-week NSLI-Youth Summer Fellowship in Shanghai, China. Frey said, "Those six weeks in China were the best six weeks of my life."
She studied three or four hours a day for five days a week and then attended various events with her fellows and stayed with a host family. Frey spoke about her experience with the Chinese distance learning courses offered in Arlington and suggested that a student can learn just as much in one of those courses as in a traditional classroom setting; however, students in an online course need to really work at it and practice. She suggested finding a comfortable environment where one can speak out loud to themselves to practice and to take advantage of any and all opportunities to ask questions of the instructor.
Wasan Al Qaisi, an APS Arabic teacher, spoke about the county's partnership with the Arabic Academy in Cairo, which provides the teaching portion of the county's Arabic program. Al Qaisi rotates between six schools, visiting once or twice per week to work in-person with students on oral communication skills.
Finally, Rachel Lunde Brooks, a former APS teacher now with the FBI, spoke about the importance of languages for everyone, regardless of their profession. She also discussed how knowing another language opens up career possibilities that would not otherwise be available.
Parent Stefanie Walker said, "I love what is offered—and do more!" By "do more," she was pointing out that while the county does offer excellent programs, some schools do not offer the full complement of programs and she would like to see that extended to all schools. Another parent, Kate Haselby, also wishes that programs such as Spanish immersion were available in more schools.
For more information on which language programs are offered in which schools, see the Department of Instruction's World Languages website.