50th Edition, Global Education

The history of South’s World Language Department

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Daniel Fuchs,
Volume 50
February 15, 2011

Throughout its 50-year history, South has offered a wide variety of world languages and language-related programs to its students.
Currently, in addition to Spanish and French, South offers Russian, Chinese and American Sign Language programs.
In the past, however, South has offered Italian and German in response to what was then a demographic and cultural interest, especially in the case for Italian.
“There was a significant Italian population in the neighborhood in addition to students who wanted to pursue both of these languages,”  World Language Department Head Suzanne DeRobert said. “[These languages were added] in part because of a community need.”
While these programs were popular when they were first added, numbers eventually waned, and the Newton Public Schools responded as such. “The programs were unfortunately removed as numbers of students taking these languages grew smaller,” DeRobert said. “Rounds of budget cuts were made.”
Yet language classes are not the only way South students have the opportunity to pursue languages. “Clubs and after-school programs are one way to demonstrate and interest in another language,” DeRobert said. In many cases, South works in tandem with these extracurricular opportunities.
Such oppotunities in the past have included an afterschool Hebrew course, which was once discussed as a possible language course at South.
Part of the reason that new languages are not always offered at South is because there is no tangible community need or interest, as there once was with Italian and German or as there currently is with Chinese.
“To create a new world language, we would need a distinct community survey to see their interest,” DeRobert said. “There needs to be a significant interest or need, like there is with Chinese.”
Additional obstacles include simply how much South can offer, time and money-wise. “We need to be able to offer a full four-class program,” DeRobert said.
In the future, DeRobert hopes to see other languages offered at South, given the interest. “Arabic has grown immensely and is being offered at many colleges and universities,” DeRobert said. “Given an interest or capacity, I would like to see that offered.”
Still, while languages have come and gone, learning one language can be the catalyst for future learning.
“The more languages one learns, the more equipped they are to learn others,” DeRobert said. “One language can ensure an easier time learning others moving forward.”
More importantly, learning a world language displays a world perspective on a student’s part.
“Learning world language is about being open and willing to understand the world cultural through a different lens,” DeRobert said.
“It demonstrates a world view outside your own culture. It is the first step towards a new culture.”

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