Randomness (r_ness) wrote,

Second language instruction in my old middle and high school, way back when.

My old middle school started us on a second language in sixth grade. This was pretty good for the time. You had the choice of French or Spanish. In ninth grade, when we got to high school, they added German and Latin.

It struck me today that this was an odd choice of languages for a town that had a plurality, if not a majority, of Italian-Americans. If you went by ethnicity, I'd think you'd have gone with Italian and Irish as your elective languages. (Nearly all the Italian, Irish, and Polish kids were being raised Catholic, so that might have had something to do with why they offered Latin.)

Clearly there were practical issues. Finding teachers would have been harder. Most of the students were at least a generation or two away from actually using the language at home. Generally, the Italian kids I grew up with couldn't manage any more than a few curses in Italian, and that only in Neapolitan dialect. So you'd have to deal with the whole Neapolitan vs. standard Italian issue. Some kids actually did speak it at home, so you'd have to produce skill-appropriate classes for them as well.

And back then, there was still some sentiment among immigrants that when you came to America you got rid of your old language as a part of assimilation rather than hone it as another useful skill. So it's certainly possible that there wasn't anywhere near as much interest as there would be today.

But thinking back from the early 21st century at the apathetic kids in my classes, I can't help thinking you'd have gotten more engagement if you'd actually offered languages that the kids cared about, as opposed to teaching them languages that some upper-middle class people considered "cultured".

At least we had second language instruction.
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