By Ella Marrufo
The key to mastering a foreign language is not learning correct grammar, conjugations, or one-dimensional phrases like “I like your shirt,” but rather, you can achieve mastery by immersing yourself in and practicing speaking the language as much as possible. Unfortunately, high schools seem to teach languages mainly by incorporating the former.
High school language programs focus almost entirely on learning vocabulary, grammar, and verb conjugations. While classes do offer the occasional oral exam or partner speaking activity, I simply do not think this is enough to understand a language fully and use it in a practical setting. Learning how to conjugate a verb may grant students an A in their language class, but it will prove less useful if someone finds themselves wanting to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a foreign country. Of course, learning to spell and conjugate are still important and offer their own sets of tools, but I believe for the demands of the real world we need to learn how to be quick thinkers and how to come up with dynamic conversations so that we can make meaningful connections.
The best and quickest way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in that environment. Admittedly, this is difficult in a school setting, but there are things we could change to make this possible. We need to shift the focus away from grammar and instead toward auditory learning; eliminate the use of English, encourage students to speak the language with one another, and make oral exams the main priority. I would like to see more one-on-one time with teachers, during which students can practice conversing in preparation for real-world situations.
Disregarding school for a moment, immersing yourself in a language’s culture and environment may mean taking a year or semester abroad to study in a foreign country. Many organizations allow students to stay with host families while also focusing on humanitarian acts that create opportunities for students to get involved with the community. Occasionally there will be no English speakers, pushing students outside of their comfort zone while encouraging growth. It will be difficult at first, as it is not in our nature to be comfortable with being an outsider, but I believe this type of immersion is the best way to learn a language.
Another factor in mastering a foreign language is making sure you are actually interested in your chosen language. For students, we are not always able to pick which language we want to learn, which may lead to indifference and the question: “why am I learning this in the first place?” If students receive projects that require them to interact and engage with their language’s community, perhaps it would boost their engagement in the subject.
Overall, I believe the current language program in high schools is flawed, placing too much focus on grammar and conjugation, and not enough on speaking and adapting to real-world situations. Any changes to the current system will take time, but I believe it will be worth it for the students who want to be able to use their language practically and fluently.