The Herald-Mail - Janet Heim

Language study can be passport to the world

NOVEMBER 27, 2010

Editor’s note: The world language program offered by Washington County Public Schools is designed to break down language and cultural barriers through traditional or immersion language programs or the ELL — English Language Learners — program. In this package of stories, students, teachers and administrators weigh in on how the program works and how it is working.

WASHINGTON COUNTY — While studying Japanese as a student at Boonsboro High School, Caitlin Wolfe gave little thought to how her language skills would open doors for her.
But after studying in Tokyo, the international studies major at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., has a broader vision.

“While I enjoy living in the small town of Boonsboro, traveling to large cities such as Tokyo has reaffirmed the fact that the world is so much larger than just my own backyard,” Wolfe wrote last summer in an e-mail from Japan.

Wolfe and other students say Washington County Public Schools’ World Language Program helped them realize there is a larger world, and provided them with a linguistic passport to that world.
The school system offers seven languages — from Japanese at Boonsboro High School, Latin at Smithsburg High School, Russian at North Hagerstown High School and Chinese at South Hagerstown High School to the more traditional Spanish, German and French.

While past generations of students might have referred to the courses of study as foreign language, that’s been changed to “world language,” said Paula Moore, who since 2008 has been the school system’s supervisor of ELL — English Language Learners — and World Languages.
Why the change? Moore said the word “foreign” has a negative connotation, suggesting that a language being learned might be odd or strange.

But, she said, “It’s not odd or strange to speak another language in most parts of the world.”
Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said language and culture are “inextricably linked” and that learning another language leads to an understanding of cultural diversity.

“Students in our schools today will all be existing in a world in which the globe has shrunk and will have business dealings with people all over the world,” Morgan wrote in an e-mail in June.
“As a result, the more knowledgeable the next generation is with regards to language and culture, the more successful our country will be in trade and business negotiations.”