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More Language options a must for MHS

posted Oct 13, 2019, 1:54 PM by Andrew Tichy   [ updated Oct 13, 2019, 1:55 PM ]
By: Jack Eisenzimmer

Foriegn language education is commonly regarded as one of the best ways for students to improve test scores and cognitive ability. It is tied to higher ACT and SAT scores, better problem solving ability and numerous long term benefits. So why is it that high schools like Moorhead High don’t do a better job introducing and educating students to new languages? Faculty is not necessarily to blame for the problem there are a multitude of obstacles in the way of the perfect language program and they have to find a way to wade through those obstacles. A change does need to be made however. The benefits are clear to see and the steps to creating a better foreign language program are relatively easy to achieve. The benefits of foreign language education, and the problems at Moorhead need to be addressed and fixed efficiently for the school to truly move into the upper echelon of Minnesota.

Foreign language education is tied to numerous benefits academically. Higher test scores benefit scores both students and teachers. Students who do well on test scores have higher grades, can get into better colleges and have higher self esteem. When students do better on tests it reflects well on teachers and administration. This could lead to better subsidies from the state and an all around better image for Moorhead Area Public Schools.  A concrete way to achieve higher test scores is for schools to improve their foreign language programs. A study from the American Council on Foreign Languages(ACTFL) found that students in foreign languages classes scored higher on tests in other subjects, compared to students who were in gifted and talented programs. Along with that students who received three 30 minute speaking based Spanish lessons a week, scored higher on the Metropolitan  Achievement Test than students without the lessons.

There is also evidence of an increase in problem solving ability among students who are bilingual. A different study done by ACTFL in 1982 and then again in 2016 tested a group of bi or trilingual students against a group of monolingual students and found that on basic critical thinking problems the bi and trilingual students outperformed the monolingual students. Increasing problem solving and critical thinking ability is one of the largest benefits of school. Students are armed with the ability to make smart concise decisions on larger issues because they are trained in problem solving. 

Both of these instances are evidence of a general trend that comes with bilingual education. An increase in the cognitive ability of students. That increase is not inconsequential either. Schools that do a better job teaching foreign languages tend to have better net results on standardized testing and overall student success. This is where Moorhead High School falls behind. Administration at Moorhead encourage students to take a language class, but they do not require it. They also provide a learning strategy for language classes that is inefficient and ineffective. 

One of the large problems with the foreign language department is that students aren’t required to have a credit in it to graduate. Numerous students go through their four years at Moorhead and never even enter a foriegn language classroom, even though there are numerous benefits to them taking those classes. Besides the obvious cognitive increases outlined above, there are also benefits in a students academic portfolio. Schools such as the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State University Moorhead, and Saint Cloud State all require at least two high school foreign language credits for students to attend their universities. Not to mention the hundreds of other schools instate and out of state that also require a credit in world languages. Bilingualism also benefits students when they’re applying for a job, with even employers along the lines of Hornbachers Grocery Stores favoring applicants with some background in foreign language. The head of Moorhead’s foreign language department Lana Suomala believes a language credit should be required not just in Moorhead, but the state of Minnesota as a whole.

Suomala is also of the belief that Moorhead could do a better job with class sizes, amounts and strategies for their foreign languages. Classes at Moorhead are growing rapidly due to the increasing population of the area, “It is very difficult to give language learners the time and attention they need and deserve in classes over 30 students,” Suomala said. Each new foreign language student needs one-on-one help and instruction time in order to be able to fully achieve fluency in their area of study. With the current size of classes that one on one time is a rare occurrence. Another problem with the current foreign language class is variety and amount of language classes. Moorhead offers two languages: Spanish and Chinese. While this may seem adequate, when you compare to schools of similar size and stature, it is a noticeably smaller program. Schools the size of Moorhead, such as high schools in the Twin Cities or Bismarck, tend to offer foreign language classes such as Chinese, Spanish, German, Latin, and other various languages. This diversity and amount of languages attracts students because there are languages they actually want to take, and not just two options. Another problem highlighted by Suomala was they lack of time teachers have to plan curriculum not only with the other high school teachers, but also with teachers in the Spanish immersion programs. Increased planning time allows for lessons focused more on fluency and less on memorization. That means that students will actually know how to speak a language and not just answer worksheet questions.

The foreign language problem at Moorhead needs to be addressed. There are numerous potential solutions including, examining existing curriculum, allocating more funds to world languages, hiring more language teachers, diversifying available languages, etc. Whatever the case something needs to be done. The benefits are large and quantifiable, and the solutions are relatively simple. If Moorhead High wants to compete with schools of similar or larger size academically, then it needs to improve the language program soon.