At the beginning of seventh grade, Dorseyville Middle School students were instructed to choose a foreign language to master. Students could opt to change their language of choice in high school, but the idea was to pick something in seventh grade and stick with it throughout your senior year; by the time you graduated, you’d have mastery of your foreign language of choice. The options were French, Spanish, German, and Latin. Beautiful people took French, smart kids took Latin, the vast majority took Spanish, and a smallish group of clueless indifferent students decided to take German.
I took German.
I didn’t exactly have a reason for taking German other than I had to pick something and I have a bizarre fondness for deep guttural hissing, but I stuck with that language all throughout high school. By the time I graduated I had completed German V AP. In my six years of “vigorous” German training, I had picked up a handful of coarse phrases, some basic grammar rules, and several simple questions (i.e. “where is the bathroom”, “could we eat something”, and “where is the post office”.) While my friends across the hall were discussing organic chemistry and Bolivian genocide in Spanish class, chattering away in a blaze of rolling r’s and upside-down exclamation points, I found myself sitting in German class trying to translate the original Brother’s Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood for the third time. Something just didn’t feel right. We had both started our respective language studies at roughly the same time, so what was the deal?
For a while I blamed myself. I’ll admit it, I didn’t exactly try very hard in German, but just being there had to have counted for something, right? I knew a couple of kids taking Spanish who couldn’t tell you what a direct object was that were nevertheless practically fluent in their foreign language. I then turned on my teachers; surely their ineptitude was at the root of my problems. If only I had had Senora Fontes to teach me my German, maybe I would have learned it better. Somehow, that logic didn’t seem right either. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that my deplorable lack of German proficiency was a result of both my own laziness and my sort-of-lousy teachers, but that it also had something to do with all of those wasted lessons that we had discussing German culture. There were times when we’d go through a whole class just listening to Herr Richards ramble on (in German) about Oktoberfest, and this is a waste of time. I would have much rather learned about the German language itself, not the flavor of German culture. If we had spent more classes learning cases and vocabulary than talking about the Brothers Grimm and Angela Merkel, maybe I would actually have something to show for my six years in German other than a few curse words and a bad attitude.
What were your experiences with foreign language throughout high school?