With today’s increased job automation, many argue that students need to focus on technical skill development, but Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban says the humanities, particularly foreign languages, will be most valuable in the future.
A broad education enables people to think deeply, logically and innovatively so that they can be contributing members of society. At ResponsiveEd, a focus on a rich core curriculum and foreign language study, particularly Latin, gives students a jump on building cultural knowledge and strong grammatical skills.
According to ResponsiveEd’s Director of Foreign Languages and Humanities, John Thorburn, studying a foreign language has both immediate and long term benefits.
“We all know that speaking a foreign language can give you a leg up in the workplace, but more importantly it stretches your brain in new ways that improve your SAT and ACT scores, math skills, logic processes, understanding of the English language and vocabulary, as well as exposes you to a new culture and improves your studying skills,” said Dr. Thorburn.
While the languages program varies between ResponsiveEd’s various schools, many students start with English from the Roots Up in third through fifth grade. The curriculum helps students build their vocabulary by learning Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes.
“With more than half of all English words being Latin-based, it just makes sense to study Latin. It really helps students draw connections and think on a deeper level. For example, the Declaration of Independence says ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident.’ The word self-evident comes from videre, a Latin word that means to see. A student with that knowledge can branch out from the word evident and get evidence, evidentiary, video, vision, visionary, envision and so on. Standardized testing results in vocabulary, reading and writing really demonstrate the benefit,” said Dr. Thorburn.
In sixth grade through eighth grade, some ResponsiveEd students start studying Latin in earnest.
“I have found studying a foreign language really helps students get down to the nuts and bolts of English. Kids aren’t typically thinking about what is an adjective, what is a noun or what modifies what. When you start learning another language, you are forced from the very beginning to learn what a noun is and what an adjective is. Students start to realize how English is put together and why it is important to understand the grammatical distinctions,” said Dr. Thorburn.
Amanda Kline, who teaches sixth grade English, Latin and Humanities at Corinth Classical Academy, says she has seen great improvements in students through the Latin class.
“It is really hard at first, but they are growing by leaps and bounds. Latin has been great because it builds stepping stones that make the process easier. When we start diagramming sentences in Latin, students who struggled with grammar start saying, ‘Oh, I did it. It makes sense now.’ By the end of the year I have students who have improved in their grammar and also who are slowing down and thinking more deeply and logically about things,” said Mrs. Kline.
Dr. Thorburn believes another benefit of studying a foreign language is to strengthen the brain’s learning capacity.
“Latin in particular is very logical and has very few exceptions. It forces you to slow down and be disciplined in following a logical process. I have always believed having to go through this process has improved my math skills because it is a similar process. It also helps you learn how to study because you have to study and memorize. The more you practice memorizing things, the easier it becomes,” said Dr. Thorburn.
Once students reach high school, they often have a choice between several possible languages to study. Having a background in Latin can help students, particularly if they are taking any of the Latin-based languages such as Italian, French or Spanish.
While Connie Gonzalez, the Spanish teacher at iSchool at University Park, places a heavy emphasis teaching students grammar, she also uses the language to help students explore other cultures.
“Studying another culture through its language really helps tear down walls and generalizations. I think this is particularly important in high school. As a Spanish teacher it makes me very happy when after the class students say they see the culture in a new way,” said Ms. Gonzalez.
The challenge of learning a foreign language not only provides students with new knowledge and versatile skills, but also helps them practice character traits such as diligence, determination and discipline.
How to Help Your Child Learn Foreign Languages
“One of the best ways to really learn something is to teach it to someone else. Let your kids teach you something about Latin or whatever language they are learning. Reading the language aloud is also really important whether they read to you or you read to them. I remember when my mom would listen to me recite Latin. While she didn’t know it herself, she could still check and see if I had done it correctly or not,” said Dr. Thorburn.
Memorization and fluency only come through constant repetition and regular practice. From leaving your child messages in Latin or Spanish that they have to decode to asking them what they learned in class, there are many ways to reinforce what students are learning in the classroom.
“Go talk to a native speaker, turn on the Spanish station on the radio, download a dual language dictionary on your phone, turn on the TV and watch some Spanish TV, or go to a Mexican restaurant,” recommends Ms. Gonzalez.
Although learning a language might seem unnecessary, it helps build a foundation of knowledge that will help them learn on their own.
“I always think of the old Karate Kid movie. The karate instructor makes his student paint the fence, wash the floor and wax his car. On the surface it seems irrelevant to learning karate, but the teacher eventually shows him that the motions he used in those chores were the same moves he needed for karate. A lot of what students study in school is a platform and springboard to other things in life. We can’t prepare them for everything, so we train them broadly,” said Dr. Thorburn.