Today Longmeadow High School offers three languages to students: Spanish, Latin, and French. “A few years ago [the] past superintendent, Mrs. [Marie] Doyle, was interested in putting Chinese into the building,” says Mrs. Kathleen Epaul, Chair of the World Language Department. Mrs. Doyle wanted to hear the town’s opinion on adding Mandarin Chinese, so she “did some surveys in the town, and there was not a ton of interest.” To see if students would be interested in taking Chinese, LHS and the World Language Department joined Middlebury College’s online Chinese learning program.
LHS Principal, Mr. Tom Landers, affirms the accessibility of the program which is “online, students can learn [the language] at night…during their ICE block…it is independent online learning.” The course is counted as a sixth class and appears on a student’s transcript. He advocates for Middlebury College and says, “[they have an] amazing reputation in general and in particular for language and language acquisition.”
According to Mrs. Epaul, the online program has not been popular with the students. She says, “in the past five years I probably had eight students take it.” After students did not display much interest in the online program, the department assumed that the outside community was not ready to add Chinese as a language course.
What many students do not know is that Chinese can only be taken as a second language. Therefore, in order to take part in the online program, another language has to be taken along with Chinese; Juniors and Seniors can opt for it as one of their electives. The online program only lasts two years, and as many colleges require three to four years of foreign language, students are required to take a second world language course so they are not left without a language after their freshman and sophomore year of high school. Mr. Landers outlines other factors that make taking the course along with learning the language difficult. He addresses the missing factor of “human face-to-face teaching, extra help, accessibility to other students who are studying the same language,” which would be useful, especially with Chinese – a notoriously difficult language to learn.
Many students are also simply unaware of the online Mandarin course. Mr. Landers says, “world language teachers point [the option of taking Mandarin online] out, [but it could be] advertised a little bit more, although it is an option in the educational opportunities book.”
When contemplating whether or not to add languages at the school, Mr. Landers says, “it is a valid dialogue to think about what languages are most utilitarian for students.” For now, there is a lack of interest in adding more languages.
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