Foreign-language proficiency: Bring back the BRES World-Language program

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 8:30am

This is the second of several feature articles we are publishing which were written by Boothbay Region High School’s AP Language students. According to BRHS AP Language teacher Mark Gorey, the articles are a different incarnation of their Champions of Change proposals. One of the requirements for this assignment was to cite research sources.

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.” -Flora Lewis, American Journalist

In 2008, the K-8 foreign-language program at Boothbay Region Elementary School (BRES) was cut due to the “great recession of 2008” (Tess). Now the only way for our kids to learn world languages is when they enter high school and become freshmen. The biggest consequence, as I have learned over the years, of having to learn world languages only at the high school level, is the lack of proficiency. Most kids graduating from our high school will not be proficient in a foreign language, which is a disservice to students not only in high school, but in elementary school, too.

When the K-8 foreign language program was an actual program in the elementary school, Ms. Carol Bart would go classroom to classroom with a cart and teach students in grades 2-4 very simple and basic words, phrases and greetings. What we should do now is give at least fifteen-twenty minutes for the K-8 students every single day. If the school committee thinks a full time teacher would be too costly, a part-time position could be an option.

We would not be the only Maine school to have done this. In Hall-Dale, they have had a K-8 world language program, which recently has been cut out of their school budget. In a letter to the editor, a Hall Dale student’s mother stated her concerns about the school cutting out the K-8 world language program: “​Children acquire and retain language best when they are young, and it gives the opportunity to develop an understanding of the differences and similarities in cultures around the world, which helps build a foundation of tolerance (“Hall Dale Programs”)​.

​The only other Maine school I can confirm is running a K-8 foreign language program is Falmouth, which, admittedly, has a larger student population and more money to work with.
Teachers try very hard for students to get the​ ​basic idea of the world language they are studying.​. ​It isn’t teachers’ fault if the student doesn’t fully get the idea and can barely hold his/her own in a conversation with a different language. While you can get the idea of world languages in four years of high, in order to achieve proficiency, students need to start much earlier. This is obvious when we have exchange students from countries such as Spain or Germany sitting in our classes. Their level of English is as high as ours, or sometimes, higher.

Señora Clark, the Spanish teacher at Boothbay Region High School, has stated that the mandate that the students only need to do one year of a world language is simply “not enough.” There are also a multitude of sources outside our school that have stated that foreign language can be learned better in the younger grades. Studying a foreign language can c​reate “more positive attitudes and less prejudice toward people who are different (“Home”). In certain studies “Researchers found that young adults proficient in two languages performed better on attention tests and had better concentration than those who spoke only one language” (Wanjek).

There have been others like me who have called for a K-8 world-language program including graduating senior Olivia Paolillo, who made a similar argument last year in her Champions of Change essay and iMovie, which the school committee watched and and then said they would talk further with Principals Welch and Tess about what could be done. I ask our school once again if they will do what’s best for our students and explore how we could re-establish the K-8 world language program.

Works Cited

Clark, Karol. Foreign Language Instructor at BRHS. Personal Interview. May 2019.

"​Hall-Dale Programs, Staff should Not be Cut."​ Kennebec Journal, May 09, 2012​. ProQuest, w/1011566845?accountid=17222.

“Home.” ​Department of Foreign Languages & Literature - College of Liberal Arts - Auburn University,

“9 Big Advantages of Learning a Foreign Language.” ​FluentU Language Learning, 17 Mar. 2019, ​​.

Tess, Mark. Principal of BRES. Personal Interview. May 2019.

Wanjek, Christopher. “Learning a New Language at Any Age Helps the Brain.” ​LiveScience, Purch, 2 June 2014, ​​.