Spread The Word: Modern Languages

Imagine this:

“Can you speak a second language?” asks the interviewer, scrutinizing the face of the job applicant, a fresh-out-of-the-bubble Groton graduate.

“Well…um…no, but I can tell you that I learned about parabolas in this course called STEM…”

“That’ll do. Thank you for your time, we’ll call you if we have any further questions,” interrupts the interviewer.

The discouraged Grotonian slumps out of the room, cursing himself for not having mentioned that he learned about population dynamics in STEM as well.

“…although the efforts to build a new science curriculum that incorporates bits and pieces of science, math and engineering are admirable, modern languages should not be relegated to the bottom of the pile.”

Over the past decade, the Science Department, and especially the STEM program, has grown while the Modern Languages Department has not expanded in the meantime. Instead, while the school was busy creating a cutting-edge, inter-disciplinary course that teaches the same math and science that could otherwise be taught in two separate courses, current language classes have been stagnating in comparison to the attention that science has been receiving. The name of the course where students learn about right triangles or global warming should be re-considered as a less urgent priority than making sure that Grotonians graduate fluently speaking a second or third language.

Needless to say, it is a shame that modern languages don’t receive more attention at Groton in this day and age when bilingualism is becoming the norm. What is more attractive to the average employer: a Groton graduate who can proudly say that he can fluently speak a second language, or a graduate who can say that he learned mathematical concepts in a STEM course? The mentality of the school should be more oriented towards the demands of today’s job market, both for its own benefit and for the benefit of its graduates. I believe almost nothing matters more in today’s global connectivity than to be able to speak a second language fluently, whether in engineering or liberal arts careers: our graduates will have access to a much broader job market because of an additional language.

What’s more, bilingualism also “improves efficiency in native languages,” according to Mr. Abu-Rabia, a researcher at the University of Haifa in Israel. Studies on linguistics and bilingualism show that there is a correlation between knowing a second language and higher intelligence. Mr. Rick Commons, our previous headmaster, gave a chapel talk last year encouraging students to delve deeper into their language studies because this correlation has been proven by many studies in linguistics. Yet the school does not give the modern languages department the attention that it deserves.

Our school should seek to develop the modern languages program with the same fervor that it is developing STEM. Is the making of a course with a cool-sounding name more important than making sure that students graduate from the fish-tank with an additional language in their pocket? Could the school not afford to create new language departments, such as German, Italian or Arabic? Should the school boost the Chinese Department to make it one of Groton’s strongest, to prepare more students for the AP exam and beyond? I would certainly prefer sharing a cultural heritage with a millions of peoples than to share a pride in having learnt the law of cosines in a STEM classroom.

The STEM program has been at the forefront of the school’s projects for nearly half a decade now, and although the efforts to build a new science curriculum that incorporates bits and pieces of science, math and engineering are admirable, modern languages should not be relegated to the bottom of the pile. I hope that modern languages will receive more attention from a school who is accepting more and more international students, and that the administration will reassess its priorities.

To quote Clayton Lewis, the headmaster of the Washington International School, in a recent New York Times piece: “‘Getting by’ with languages simply isn’t good enough. Would we apply the same kind of thinking to learning science and mathematics?”

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