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Love of Languages at Olney: Spanish and Mandarin Chinese
Kita Frick-Shipley ’14 from Richmond, Indiana has studied Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Latin – and will soon be adding German to the mix. While at Olney, she has taken both Spanish and Chinese. Why study languages? “It helps me open up more horizons. I can talk to more people and feel more integrated in the world,” she says.
Frick-Shipley has been accepted into a Rotary exchange program in Germany for the 2012-2013 school year. She will live with host families while attending high school. Part of her own heritage is Germanic.
She is not the only Olney Friends School student studying abroad next year. Hunter Keller ’14 from Triadelphia, West Virginia has been chosen as the high school representative from her home state for a full-scholarship program in Germany sponsored by the German government.
Rina Welch ’13 from San Francisco, California wants to learn 10 languages by the time she is 18. She is nearly there, at nine: her two native languages, English and French; a couple of Native American languages indigenous to the East Coast, Abenaki and Algonquin; a Native language spoken in Iraq, Mandaic; and in her present course of study (including self-study) at Olney, four more: Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and Esperanto.
How does she trace her love of languages? “I just grew up in a multicultural community, and I really appreciated languages then. I just got really interested in linguistics and all languages,” she says.
How is it learning two or three (or four) languages at once? “It’s difficult. They’re different. I don’t mix them up. I really enjoy it,” she says.
Why study languages? “To communicate with more people, to read more books [in the languages in which they were written],” she says.
En Español and in Chinese
Thanks to its small size, Olney Friends School has long focused on teaching one language – Spanish – very well. In 2012-2013, students also have an option to study Mandarin Chinese as an elective.
Students’ views of China change when they learn language and culture from a native speaker, says visiting teacher Quan Xu from Dongguan City, Guangdong, China. For Chinese New Year, in January, students studying Chinese joined Olney’s Chinese students to decorate the Chinese classroom, organize a feast, play songs and games, learn special greetings for the day, and give lower-status persons (elder/younger, etc.) token gifts of money as a form of encouragement for life in the new year.
Most people in China can speak Mandarin Chinese, says Xu. The elderly and those in rural settings may be the exception. Study of the language is mandated in schools.
First- and second-quarter Chinese classes at Olney Friends School have focused on pronunciation and daily conversation. In the third quarter, students have begun studying Chinese characters – their meanings, and how to write them. There is also a continued focus on listening and speaking.
What does Welch like best about studying Chinese at Olney? “I like the culture. I like the language. It makes sense to me. I like being able to speak to so many people.”
Six students so far this year have studied one or more quarters of Chinese language. “Some of them really want to travel to China to see what is happening there,” says Xu.
All students are required to complete three consecutive years of a foreign language in order to graduate. That makes Spanish the logical choice for most students at Olney.
Daniel Washburn ’13 of Greensboro, North Carolina is studying his third year of Spanish at Olney Friends School. He studied both Spanish and French in middle school. “I’m a linguistically-minded person. I like words, and reading,” he says. “It’s interesting how different languages express the same things. I like learning about cultures and being able to communicate with different groups of people.”
Spanish teacher Hannah Reed says her main goal is “to get kids excited and happy enough about Spanish so they want to study on their own in the future, so they will seek out classes, and music, and TV, in Spanish. I try to make the class feel more like fun than work.”
How does she do this? “For example, today in Spanish I we conjugated verbs while shooting baskets in the gym. In Spanish II, we colored modern-art images of the human body to learn the names of body parts. We have music every week. We start each class with conversation. Whenever I start relying on the textbook too much, I step back and say, ‘How is this relevant?’”
“I let student interests be a part of deciding what we study. For example, a student suggested a project in which each person would identify a real-life area in which to learn more vocabulary. That takes us beyond the textbook vocabulary topics such as sports, travel, the doctor’s office.”
Reed established a YouTube channel for Olney’s Spanish classes. Students are assigned popular music songs weekly to practice vocabulary and pronunciation. “I’ve actually heard roommates complain in the dorm, ‘She’s listened to that song 20 times!’”
“I try to get the advanced students into a leadership role. Today, the Spanish IV class planned a lesson on the weather for the students in Spanish I.”
Other mainstays include the school-wide Spanish Perch in the fall, in which each student taking Spanish must give a short performance of his or her choice. Reed also incorporates current events, holidays, and the Olney campus into the curriculum. “We’ve addressed immigration, the Day of the Dead, geography of the Spanish-speaking parts of the world, Columbus Day. We’ve learned farm vocabulary,” she says. Her classes did projects for Hispanic Heritage Month.
Students keep personal journals in Spanish. Reed also encourages students who are native speakers to be cultural and linguistic resources for their peers.