Coastal Middle School students on Tuesday discussed the need to get "comida y agua" to disaster victims. They greeted each other with a friendly "nĭ hăo" in Chinese class and learned that none of the picky eaters in Arabic class like "barukli," "tamatim" or "bitata."
"Being an International Baccalaureate school provides us the unique opportunity to teach a world language to our students every day," said Spanish teacher Marla Middleton.
The International Baccalaureate Middle Years program offered at Coastal Middle is designed to provide students with challenging courses that empower them to think globally and critically.
"Last year I did two semesters of Chinese, and this year I'm taking Arabic and Spanish," said Coastal student Emma North. "They're really teaching. They don't just focus on the language but the heritage and how it influences you every day. We're not just taking it to pass the test — it's for life."
Cameryn Metoyer had a notebook page full of basic greetings. He had carefully written out "hello," "goodbye" and "how are you" in Chinese and Latin characters and was waiting for his turn to go before the class and start a conversation with teacher Chen Xi.
"It's not hard once you get the hang of it," he said. "I don't know anyone who speaks Chinese yet, but I think I can use it in a good way throughout my lifetime."
Coastal Middle employs four Spanish teachers — Middleton, Elizabeth Colson, Sarah Downey and Faria Singleton. Arabic teacher Ayman Belhiyad and Chinese teachers Chunyan Pan and Chen Xi are guest teachers funded by grants from the U.S. Department of State and the College Board. Coastal students take Spanish courses for high school credit. Arabic and Chinese are elective courses.
Savannah-Chatham World Languages Specialist Mark Linsky said grants fund Chinese language courses at Mercer and Southwest middle schools as well. A cooperative program with Savannah State University's Confucius Institute supports Chinese language courses at Myers and DeRenne middle schools. High schools require students to take at least two years of a foreign language. High school students can take high school credit courses in Chinese at Islands and Johnson and in Arabic at Johnson.
"Students with second and third language exposure tend to score higher on multiple standardized assessments," Linsky said. "The middle grade years are an important time to learn a language due to brain development changes that occur in adolescence."
Learning foreign languages, even those that students have never been exposed to before, isn't as hard as it seems, according to Coastal seventh-grader Abby Van Brimmer. She was able to identify several Arabic vocabulary words with ease.
"It's hard to pronounce," she said. "But we watch videos and sometimes the videos have quizzes, then we play games."