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Language classes expand opportunities for communication

Six thousand, nine hundred and nine. According to the Linguistic Society of America, the most extensive catalog of languages is a list containing 6,909 distinct languages, yet so many people are content with knowing just one. While not everyone may feel particularly linguistically gifted or ever become fluent in more than one language, learning another language is just as important as math or history.

Senior Sara Fanous has taken Spanish every year since her first years in elementary school. She said at first she continued with Spanish because she didn’t want to waste all the time she had put into learning the language over the years.

“I knew that throwing away 10 years of work would be a mistake, so I continued,” Fanous said.  “After freshman year though, my reasoning shifted. I continued because I loved learning Spanish and learning about the culture.”

Fanous said taking Spanish has exposed her to a different perspective, increasing her appreciation of culture and history, as she views it differently than she used to. Lingual and cultural differences put a spin on events that might be familiar and transform them into something new and exciting.

“Taking Spanish has definitely opened my eyes to a whole different world,” Fanous said. “We as a society are so focused on our own individual worlds that sometimes we forget about what’s happening in the worlds of people around us.”

As complex as our world is today, knowing another language has multiple advantages. Along with the personal and cultural benefits of a language class throughout high school, students can also enter a higher level class when they begin college.

“One of the advantages to taking four years of high school Spanish is that I get to go into college with a lot of credit hours,” Fanous said. “That becomes helpful because I don’t have to be in a beginning Spanish class with 200 people and I can get a minor pretty quickly.”

No matter what a student’s plans are for college, language is always applicable, and being bilingual is a huge benefit when applying for a job after they graduate. Fanous said she plans to pursue a minor in Spanish next year in college.

“My plan is to go into medicine and knowing different languages can be really helpful when trying to understand patients, even in Kansas,” Fanous said. “The more you can understand, the more you can help.”

Communication is often something taken for granted, especially in a community where there is limited diversity. The ability to converse in another language enables connections with a broader range of people, and also automatically makes a person more approachable and respectful.

“It’s a great way to build relationships with people, when you find you have something in common,” Spanish teacher Alyson Kilcoyne said. “Even if it is a stranger, just the simple fact of being able to speak their language, even if they speak yours, immediately brightens their day. For example, there’s a woman at my gym, she knows some English but she’s much more comfortable speaking Spanish. Every time we see each other, she always addresses me in Spanish. Just the smile that is on her face, it’s contagious and it’s incredible.”

Kilcoyne said she believes the ability to make connections like this is one of the things she likes most about being bilingual, and looking back, she wishes she would have taken French as well to expand her communication abilities.

In a different country, knowing the language is the best way to connect with a diverse culture and be more personable and trustworthy, and overall, adds to the experience. For most students, Kilcoyne said travel is probably the main reason they continue with language classes. However, junior Michael Walker is among several students who choose not to take a language, as he dropped Spanish after sixth grade.

“It was really hard and there’s a lot of homework, and I really didn’t like not knowing what the teacher was saying,” Walker said. “[I dropped language classes because] I’m really crunched for credits anyway.”

Besides the extra workload, schedule space for a full-year class often prevents or discourages students from taking a language class as they opt to explore other options.

“I think most people stop taking Spanish in high school because they don’t have time for it in their schedule,” Fanous said. “It’s a big commitment, and to add it on top of your core classes can be difficult at times. I manage my schedule to take Spanish by not taking any of the extra curricular classes.”

After the first few years, some students’ commitment to taking a language manifests as they turn to other classes to fill its place. Kilcoyne said some students are content with only completing two years of a language because it gives them just enough for colleges to be satisfied.

“They don’t see the benefits of continuing, or often time they think ‘I only need two to get into KU’ or ‘I only need two to get into K-State,’” Kilcoyne said. “I have heard from kids who have dropped, they come back and their question for me is ‘Why did you let me drop?’ Well, in the end, it’s your decision.”

Even though it is not a requirement to take a language class to graduate in the Blue Valley district, language classes are still an important aspect, not only for the improved communication possibilities, but also cultural engagement. Being culturally aware benefits individuals as they are often more understanding of others and their culture. They learn to respect differences, and view them in a positive light. Taking a language throughout high school opens up numerous opportunities for service, travel and viewing a different perspective as the knowledge of a language grows.

“Yes, it looks great on a college application and yes, you get paid a lot more for being bilingual, but it’s more than that,” Fanous said. “Just knowing a little bit of a different language opens the doors to communication with hundreds of thousands of more people, and that is pretty cool.”


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