Falcons and foreign language

The inside scoop on West’s world languages department


Laurence Walker

Tammy Burton is a the world language department head at West, more specifically teaching the advanced levels of Spanish, such as dual credit. She believes that reaching higher levels of language learning increases student motivation immensely. “I have found that the students are much more motivated for doing the work and asking grammar questions and really getting in depth into the language,” Burton said.

Laurence Walker and Thomas Yates

Hola! Hallo! Bonjour! Davenport West offers three language programs and a classical languages course. Ask any foreign language teacher or student, and they’d say that language is an important part of life, and that learning a new language is beneficial to anyone. In fact, West offers more college credit through language classes than any other Davenport Community school, it’s a big part of West’s culture and all Falcons are in it together.

Many believe that every student needs two semesters of foreign language to graduate, but it’s just a common misconception. There are no world language requirements to graduate, but so many students don’t know that nearly everyone who comes to West ends up taking those two semesters. How does a student decide which culture and language to delve into?

“The majority of students who take my class take it because they really want to. It’s taken for a majority of reasons, it’s self motivated in the sense that a lot of Americans have German heritage, or family members who have gone to Germany,” German teacher Craig Kohl said.

Craig Kohl, or as his students refer to him, Herr Kohl, has been teaching at West for five years. Spanish is the largest language program at West, but Kohl is not concerned about enrollment of the German program.

“The enrollment is good right now, since I’ve been here the German program has grown. I’ve been the only German teacher at West since I joined, but I do coordinate with German teachers at other schools,” Kohl said.

The German program is growing, but it’s still much smaller than the Spanish program. The list goes on as to why a student may take German over Spanish, Spanish over German, or French over either.

“I think more people take Spanish over French or German because it’s exposed at the junior high level. I believe if German and French were offered in middle schools, our classes would be fuller,” Kohl said. “Students who took Spanish in eighth grade and did really well aren’t prone to switching to French or German.”

Spanish teacher Tammy Burton also spoke on what makes students take Spanish over the other language courses offered.

“I think it has to do with Spanish being the second most commonly spoken language in the country,” Burton said. “It also has to do with after World War II there was such a negative connotation with the German language that many German programs withered away.”

Burton currently teaches Spanish III, Spanish IV, and the dual credit Intermediate Spanish classes, but has taught Spanish I and II in the past. She touched on why students take World Language classes in the first place, specifically why students take Spanish III and IV.

“I believe the great majority of them take it because they think they need it for college. There is a certain percentage that take it because they’re interested in learning another language,” Burton said.

However, Burton sees a shift in attitude with students in advanced Spanish courses.

“This is the first year I taught intermediate Spanish, so this is my first go around for that class. I have found that the students are much more motivated for doing the work and asking grammar questions and really getting in depth into the language,” Burton said. “There does seem to be much more of an enjoyment and a desire to work with the language.”

Spanish, a language primarily spoken in Spain and South America, is noted as highly enrolled in at West. Typically, teachers believe that Spanish is seen as the easiest and most geographically relevant language for students to learn.

“People think Spanish is easier than everything else. Different kinds of kids will take different classes: the kids who think it’s easy will take Spanish, the kids who take French typically take it because they want the challenge and something different, and the kids who take German are a whole different field,” Spanish and French teacher Ashley Schaeffer said.

A student’s language choice places them in a general field of perceptions among World Language teachers, but not every student’s case is the same as another’s. The German program is unique and troublesome in the eyes of the World Language department.

“Historically, the German enrollment has gone up and down. As long as I’ve been here, we’ve had one German teacher, and keeping a single German teacher full time is an up and down battle,” Schaeffer said.

Outside of staffing, student enrollment is a crucial part of a foreign language classes’ survival in a school. At West, Schaeffer teaches one class a day: a classroom split in half by students studying French I and French IV. This alone is a sign of the French program’s conflict with student enrollment.

“Part of the reason for French’s enrollment struggle is at the fault of the district, they’ve cut French from middle schools, and generally find it an easy place to make cuts in,” Schaeffer said. “The adults in the district believe Spanish is the most common and the most useful. We’ve had some major turnover in staffing, and with foreign language, if students don’t like or respect you, they just won’t take the class.”

On the topic of elective classes, the view shifts to classical languages: a single term world language class that does not meet college entrance prerequisites. Classical languages covers Greek and Latin, both obscure languages in comparison to German, French, and Spanish.

“Classical languages is a unique class, because at West it’s a one term class, and at Central it’s a two term class. We have never had anyone who could speak the Greek, so our program is cut in half on content,” Schaeffer said.

West covers all of its bases for student interests when it comes to foreign language. But, not every West student desires to pursue any foreign language, which reflects in the attitudes of students taking those classes.

“Most kids think they have to have foreign language to graduate high school, or they live in a society where they believe everyone has to go to college, and that’s a requirement,” Schaeffer said.

Though some students aspire to study what West offers, and others would rather not, there is also a population of students who may not enjoy studying French, German, or Spanish, because they would rather pursue another foreign tongue.

“It would be great to offer Arabic, Chinese, Russian, or anything like that. In world language, it’s difficult to find teachers outside of Spanish. Finding French and German teachers is tough enough, and finding other languages is even harder,” Schaeffer said.

Despite the ups and downs that West’s World Language department faces, West has proven time and time again to be competent in our pursuit of knowledge.

“Truthfully, West is best in the foreign language department. Especially in Spanish, where we pump out more fluent kids than any other building,” Schaeffer said.