Friday, May 6, 2005
Bonjour. ...Hola. ...Guten Tag.
Foreign language classes teach a lot more than vocabulary words, and are an important part of a well-rounded education. Students are exposed to the history of another country and learn to appreciate another culture. Through this, students gain a better tolerance for diversity.
On a more mundane level, studying a foreign language can help students improve their grasp of their native tongue. Everyone knows that studying Latin or other Romance languages will improve one's English vocabulary. Language class can teach grammar as well. When we studied German grammar in high school the teachers rigorously reviewed English grammar, a subject which until then had not managed to seriously penetrate my consciousness.
The particular languages studied in school are probably not that important. China is a powerful country with the world's largest population, and there is growing interest in teaching our children Chinese. Russian was popular for similar reasons 25 years ago, but has since fallen out of vogue.
What is vital is that the student be interested in the language, whether it is because of future job opportunities, family background, travel, or because the language sounds beautiful or intriguing. Offering a choice of languages is therefore desirable, particularly at the high school level. The Concord-Carlisle High School currently offers French, Spanish, Latin and Chinese. French and Spanish are offered in the Carlisle School, starting in fifth grade.
Why do we wait for middle school to begin teaching foreign languages? More than once over the years Carlisle's language program has been expanded, only to be cut back during the next budget squeeze. But are we doing our children a disservice by starting foreign language study so late? Educators have long known that fluency is much more easily attained when study starts much sooner. Granted, it would be expensive to create preschool foreign language programs for Carlisle's children, but there should be a relatively inexpensive way to incorporate beginning exposure to languages, starting as early as kindergarten.
We are fortunate that our schools provide opportunities for foreign language study. As taxpayers we should consider expanding our support for this valuable educational experience.
The streets of Carlisle
I work with a man who loves to run. On a Monday morning, he'll say to me, "I had such a great weekend. I ran 12 miles." I'll smile and nod, but in my head I am wondering, "Is he nuts?" I just don't think I could ever feel that way about exercise. I only do it, and not regularly enough, in an attempt to stay healthy.
Until about a month ago, my walking was done on our treadmill in the basement, which was just fine with me. I could do it whenever I wanted and also (this is key) stop whenever I wanted. But this approach also allowed me to be lazy about exercise. There were always other things to do, or reasons to cut my walk short. So I've started walking outside. The only time I had ever walked outside regularly before was with a group of friends. This pastime was great fun; we got to talk and laugh, and barely thought about the exercise we were getting. But it only lasted until everyone's schedules started changing.
Now, I'm walking by myself. Walking outside as exercise works for a few reasons. One is that if you start walking really quickly in a direction away from your house, you have to cover some distance to get back home again. Also, you don't need special training to do it. And, walking allows you to do a lot of thinking.
I walk around a rather large "block." Like other people who are not motivated by exercise, I spend some time thinking about how much of my walk I have left. Passing now familiar landmarks, like the house with the continuously barking dog, my friend's mailbox and the open field, I know exactly where the halfway point is, and silently cheer every time I reach it.
Unlike real exercise people, I like to count every fraction of a mile. I am not satisfied with saying, "I walked about two miles;" I like to tell people, "I walked 2.6 miles." I really want to count the distance up and down my driveway too, but I'm told I shouldn't.
Carlisle walkers can count on seeing many types of road kill in various states of decay. It's amazing to me that so many species of creatures become plastered on our streets. It's important to tread carefully.
Speaking of watching where you're going, I marvel at the many walkers who recognize me when I am in my car. When driving around town, I often see friends who are walking; I always wave and they wave back. But as a walker, I have trouble recognizing the drivers in the cars that pass by. Maybe it's my eyes, maybe it's because I'm not good at recognizing cars, but I am certainly not trying to be rude by not acknowledging you driving past. Please don't be offended if I don't wave. I might with more practice, but until then, I am very busy contemplating how much longer it will be until I reach my driveway.
© 2005 The