Breaking the language barrier

While exploring Barcelona, Spain on a school field trip, senior Kimi Fenn realized she was lost and didn’t recognize any buildings or signs around her. Fenn and her friend didn’t have working phones or maps on them and had to rely on asking natives for directions.

So, Fenn and her friend made their way through Barcelona, asking local shop owners and citizens navigational questions in Spanish. Ultimately, the pair was able to safely find their way back to the group in a country that speaks a different language from them.

“Speaking to people I don’t know in English is already scary for me,” Fenn laughed. “But surprisingly enough when I was talking to native Spanish speakers I understood almost all of what they were saying.”

It was then Fenn realized that her ability to communicate with native Spanish speakers was thanks to her Spanish classes at MTHS.

“As long as you’re willing to put in the effort yourself to learn, then the teachers will work with you,” Fenn said.

Spanish teacher Andrea Collins agreed, saying that any student that tries can succeed in her classroom.

Her teaching philosophy is “everyone has the right to teach and to learn” and she said that anyone who wants to be more involved in a foreign language, can.

Collins class is very “needs-based,” she said. She tries to bring her students interest into the classroom and help them learn from them. She said that a lot of students may want to learn a foreign language for a future career and she tries to use that to help.

“I enjoy what I do,” Collins said. “So I try to show that in my teaching. I laugh with my students and help them learn in whatever way they need.”

She also has her “classic Collins” moments, when she does something “so embarrassing in front of her class,” even she has to laugh along at herself. She laughed, thinking back to the previous school year when she accidentally called 911 on her phone because a story had an “emergency” in it.

MTHS offers three world languages: French, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL).

Taking a world language is not a graduation requirement, but the Edmonds School District recommends taking three years of the same world language if a student is applying for college.

Collins advises different resources, such as DuoLingo, an app that assists with learning different languages, for “brushing up” on already-made skills, but she does not recommend “relying” on those tools.

Brier Terrace Middle School (BTMS) offers a high school level Spanish class that students may take and transfer those credits to high school. Therefore, many are able to begin their freshman year with Spanish 2 and advance to as high as Spanish 5.

“I feel like the environment at [BTMS] was a really good starting point for me and Mr. Seiber [previous BTMS Spanish teacher] provided a really good foundation,” Fenn said.

Similarly, Alderwood Middle School offers a French class in which students can earn high school credit equivalent to French 1 and advance from there.

Fenn began taking Spanish in 8th grade because her grandparents both knew different languages and she liked the idea of being able to communicate differently.

“[My grandparents] would speak different languages to me growing up and when I realized I could kind of jump into that world I decided that 8th grade I might as well try learning different languages, too,” Fenn said.

If a student speaks either Spanish, French or ASL at home, they can test into that language and be placed into the correct level. Collins said that a lot of students may speak that language at home but still need to go over the basics. Or, the opposite, when a student speaks the language at home and needs to learn grammar and vernacular.

Collins’ classroom builds other skills, besides learning Spanish. A student also learns public speaking, everyday conversational skills and “on-the-spot” thinking.

Spanish teacher Andrea Collins also implements Spanish history into her everyday lessons.

According to gooverseas.com, a foundation focused on either studying or teaching abroad, more and more people globally are learning the English language. However that does not diminish the importance of native English-speakers learning a new language.

“With globalization in full swing, there’s a good chance you’ll be working with people whose first language isn’t English,” the website stated. “Being able to communicate in other languages makes you much more valuable to an employer.”

But a resumé isn’t the main concern. Vistawide, an online organization that provides free information and resources to non-English speakers and others who want to learn a new language, said learning a new language improves an individual’s global understanding.

“In a world where nations and peoples are ever more dependent upon on another to supply goods and services, solve political disputes, and ensure international security, understanding other cultures is paramount,” it read on its website.

It also said that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that routinely graduates students from high school who lack knowledge of a foreign language. It reported that 52.7 percent of Europeans are fluent in both their native tongue and at least one other language, but only 9.3% of Americans are fluent in both their native tongue and another language.

Collins advises any student taking a foreign language class to “come in with an open mind,” because learning a new language is something you need to be open to.

Fenn said learning a new language is an important skill and something that should be valued in school.

“Learning different languages at school is important because we live in such a global society today that we’re connected to so many different countries,” Fenn said. “I feel like being able to communicate in more than one language brings a lot of opportunities to yourself and it can help the people around you.”

Fenn is enrolled in Spanish 5, an independent study class. In that class, she will not being sitting in a classroom, receiving instructions from a teacher. Instead, she will work  alone in furthering herself.

She has taken Spanish every year in high school and took one year in middle school. Her first year at MTHS, her teacher was Senora Collins and she said that was a good stepping stone to help her learn more.

In her free time, Fenn also enjoys study different languages, such as Japanese and Finnish. She said she likes the idea of being able to be anywhere and talk to anyone.

Learning something new is already valuable, but learning a new language “opens up thousands of opportunities,” Fenn said.

“Here at MTHS, I think everyone should at least take the opportunity to learn a foreign language,” Fenn said. “Not just because it’s good for college, but because becoming familiar with other languages and cultures literally opens the world up to you and it lets you look at things in a new perspective.”