50th Edition, Global Education

South’s most popular language: Spanish

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Audrey Daum,
Volume 13
January 31, 1973

Despite increases or decreases in the high school enrollment in the various foreign languages, the overall interest in foreign languages has remained about the same in recent years.
A report released last October by the United States Office of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) includes a section of figures pertaining to the study of foreign languages.
The report shows that Spanish is moving ahead of French as the most popular foreign language. Both languages are taught in nearly fifty percent of the high schools surveyed.
On the other hand, interest in Latin is continuing to decline and the language is offered in fewer than twenty per cent of the high schools.
Enrollment in Russian and Italian are still very small, but the number of schools offering these languages has more than doubled in the past ten years. (Russian is offered at Newton South while Italian is not. Both languages are taught at Newton North.)
The NCES statistics do not reflect a decline in foreign language enrollment that has been noted by the Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CTFL). The Council’s figures show a very slight two per cent drop in overall enrollment between 1968 and 1970, the first decrease since 1958.
According to Mr. R. Rocco Petrillo, the Chairman of the Foreign Languages Department at Newton South, “I think that Newton South High as well as most other high schools generally reflects the NCES report. Latin and Russian are definitely faltering, but I want to make it clear that they will continue if there is sufficient demand.”
There has been a slight drop in enrollment in the Foreign Language Department at Newton South, which is in accordance with the CTFL’s figures. There was a total of 1,118 students taking a foreign language at South at the end of the first marking period a year ago while the number was down to 1,077 (a decrease of forty-one students) at the end of the first marking period this year.
However, enrollments in Spanish increased five per cent from 1970 to 1972, and twenty-five per cent from 1971 to 1972, and are expected to continue to increase. More students are beginning Spanish in the junior high schools and continuing it at Newton South and more students are beginning Spanish in high school.
There are now nineteen sections of Spanish at Newton South in two tracks—curriculum I and curriculum II, both of which are college preparatory. Both tracks carry four years of language study.
As is the case in many other high schools, Spanish has moved up in popularity at NSHS and French has dropped about five per cent. According to Mr. Petrillo, the drop in students taking French is mainly in the upper levels, where a student may decide that he really does not want that much of one foreign language.
German continues to be a small but strong program, thanks to the efforts of Frau Johanna Leisher, who goes to Meadowbrook Junior High School in the mornings to teach first-year German classes there. Unfortunately, however, Weeks Junior high recently disconnected its German program, and now offers only Spanish and French.
“Our system here is simply a reflection of our feeder junior highs,” says Frau Leisher.
The slow death of Latin is due primarily to the fact that the junior highs on our side of Newton have discontinued it, while Day Junior High, which feeds into Newton North, has a very strong Latin curriculum.
“I think the most important thing in the contemporary world is good communications, and the mastery of foreign languages helps considerably in the realization of this fact,” feels Frau Leisher. “People put up blocks thinking a language is too hard to learn.
“I think that there should be a much greater emphasis on the foreign languages despite the drop in college requirements; they are essential to the time we are in, the places we are going. Whether the students like it or not, they should take a foreign language just because they may find that, later on, they will use it and like it.”
Mr. Petrillo as well as Mrs. Leisher feels that the dropping of language requirements by more and more colleges will contribute to the incipient decline in the language electives.
Mr. Petrillo has recently been working with aide Mrs. Bernstein to come up with some ways of encouraging students to take another language, preferably Russian or Latin. In the next syllabus of courses, the Foreign Language Department will offer to anyone who is interested a second language on a pass-fail basis.
Many students have told Mr. Petrillo that they would really like to take another language, but, because of other heavier subjects plus the demands of already having one graded language, they could not meet the demands of more grade pressure. Mr. Petrillo’s idea may prove to be a viable solution to this problem.
Mr. Petrillo emphasizes that the decline in the Foreign Language Department has only been slight. “I wish that the prophets of doom would stop talking about the demise of foreign languages and just let us get on with the job,” he says.

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