In the Classroom: A Foreign Language Pilot Program

How is the Modern Languages Department incorporating authentic inquiry into its offerings to students? Ysanel Luciano ’18 is learning a foreign language of her choice through a special pilot program this semester.
French teacher Campbell Ainsworth spent this year and last year researching greater opportunities for those students who want to broaden their experience in learning foreign languages. Campbell says, “I understand the mechanics of languages, I know how they work and how they are learned. The White Mountain School Modern Languages Department is thinking about how it might be able to facilitate the learning of many languages here at School. We’re asking, can we use our understanding of how languages are learned to broaden our offerings?”

Campbell’s work reflects our professional development workshops and discussions on facilitating authentic inquiry work in our classrooms. The equivalent of authentic inquiry in the Modern Language Department may very well be supporting our students as they learn languages of their choice. The first student to pilot a modern language lab curriculum at WMS is Ysanel Luciano ’18. She is working this semester to learn basic Arabic with Campbell as her faculty mentor.

Ysanel says, “I started researching different methods for learning Arabic over the winter vacation. I found several websites that could help me learn basic Arabic. The one I’m working with now has an audio component. I am able to listen to words pronounced in Arabic. I repeat the words myself and am quizzed again several minutes later. I know pretty quickly if I’m able to grasp a word or phrase or if I need to work harder to commit it to memory. I’m building a spreadsheet to track my progress. It includes vocabulary in English and Arabic, and a pronunciation guide.”
Campbell and Ysanel meet twice a week. One meeting is for planning the curriculum and figuring out what Ysanel will study on her own time. The next sessions is for assessing her progress. She’s also writing a paper about her experience. Campbell and Ysanel are following a traditional language-learning program in that they look together at a scope and sequence for indicators of progress. “We’ll decide that I should work on greetings, or nouns, etc. Right now I’m working on learning numbers— how they are pronounced and how they are written in Arabic. I’m also exploring the geography and cultures of countries where Arabic is the first language. I’m interested in formal language use and the common, “slang” words,” says Ysanel.
When asked why she chose Arabic Ysanel said, “Arabic gives me the opportunity to learn something really different. I wanted to work with a language that had a different set of characters. Also— a family member of mine is married to someone who speaks Arabic. His language and culture really intrigue me. I started to learn some words, and he taught me about some of his traditions when I was home on a break. When I came back to school Campbell made an announcement about this opportunity. He wanted to work with a student who was willing to try to learn a language that we haven’t traditionally offered. So I reached out to Campbell.
One thing that has been really great about my experience so far is that other students are starting to interact with me in Arabic as I teach them the words I’m learning. If I greet them in Arabic in the hall when we pass they say “hello” in Arabic back. I’m learning a lot from my experience, but I think I’m also contributing to our school in a different way every day.”

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