Students skip prerequisites to advanced language courses

Tanya Keskar | The Chronicle

Mason students have taken initiative of their learning by immersing themselves into additional language courses, some having no prior prerequisites. 

By plunging themselves into the realm of foreign language courses with little prior knowledge of the inner-workings of a language is allowing driven students to discover the facets of speech. Mason High School (MHS) senior Lincoln Edsall decided to take Advanced Placement (AP) German in his senior year without any prior knowledge of the language. With a keen interest in world languages, Edsall took all of the Spanish classes offered by Mason but wanted to continue learning a foreign language. Edsall said that taking AP German seemed like a unique opportunity for him to gain additional exposure to another language.

“I might never get the chance to try out another language,” Edsall said. “It’s just for the fun of it. It’s something that I enjoy and there’s a whole lot of things that I learned about culture from doing all these years of Spanish, so being able to branch out somewhere else was also very interesting.”

Currently in French III, MHS junior Gabriel Caal, decided to study French for a year on his own, gaining a background in the language before taking French III. Growing up with parents speaking both French and Spanish, Caal was heavily determined to take AP Spanish his sophomore year, but wanted to continue learning French, which led him to the online language learning platform Duolingo which he used to learn basic French. Caal said that through Duolingo, he was able to start understanding conversations between his parents better, which benefited him in his classes.

“I can understand [my family] pretty well,” Caal said. “My Duolingo progress [has] made it a lot easier to understand and know vocabulary, especially in French class.”

After studying Mandarin in a nearby Chinese school, freshman Ellie Li took Mandarin III as her first language class in high school. Li’s parents are from China and speak Mandarin, allowing her to be immersed in the language from a young age. Li said that her Chinese heritage has always been a part of her life, through food, celebrations, visits to China, and speaking Mandarin.

“I would say Chinese [is my first language] because my grandmother actually spoke Chinese to me when I was first born,” Li said. “In the beginning, I learned [English and Chinese] at the same time, but then my English went faster than my Chinese. I can speak to my Chinese friends or people who live in China, just day to day conversations.”

Language classes provide foundations for preserving cultures through discussing holidays and traditions. Caal said that there is still a lot of value in learning different languages, as it allows for cultures to spread and be preserved.

“It’s important to maintain your culture, and if it’s not [your culture], it’s cool to learn some other language and it can help you or other people in the future,” Caal said.

Languages spread to different parts of the world and build cultural interconnectedness throughout the globe. Li said that her knowledge of Mandarin allows her to connect to other parts of the world and understand new cultures.

“I feel more connected with the world,” Li said. “It’s important to still have diversity among people because it makes you experience different cultures.”

Knowing how to speak another language also allows students to reach out and help in the community. Edsall is the Vice President of the MHS Spanish National Honors Society, which organizes projects aimed at furthering learning about Spanish culture and helping Spanish speaking communities. The club volunteers with the St. Susanna Church, which has a large Hispanic population, and at Matthew 25, which directly supports people in Spanish speaking communities. Edsall said that his Spanish skills enabled him to communicate with the kids in Spanish while volunteering with them. 

“I was volunteering and helping kids make these crafts – traditional Hispanic crafts for the holidays – and I was communicating with the children in Spanish,” Edsall said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Spanish is spoken by many people from many different backgrounds. Caal has always lived in the United States (US), but his parents are from Guatemala, a third world country. Caal said that living in the US has allowed him to learn about many different cultures, and learning Spanish has been eye-opening to hardships faced by Spanish speaking communities.

“I do think that I haven’t experienced some of the hardships that come with growing up in [Guatemala],” Caal said. “Growing up in the United States, a big country that’s full of so many cultures, I have definitely absorbed things from the world around me.”

In college, Edsall plans to major in computer science and minor in Spanish, as languages can be a part of the professional world. Minoring in a second language can open new job opportunities around being an interpreter or translator, and has an average salary increase of between 1.5% to 4%. He said that knowing another language would allow him to communicate with more people, especially in a field like information technology that involves much global collaboration.

“Being able to have experience with foreign languages is very helpful no matter what career you’re going to,” Edsall said.

There are now many resources available to learn languages such as online platforms or classes, and reasons to learn range from connecting with the culture, communicating with family in native languages, or simply wanting to try something new. Edsall said that learning a language is like a mental puzzle of trying to convey a message with a limited vocabulary, and he enjoys the process.

“Learning a language can be difficult,” Edsall said. “Instead, if you focus on having fun interacting with the language, there is so much more you can learn.”

Graphic by Becca Hunter