Are languages at North Cross really global?
By Philip Schueler
A banner outside Willis Hall boasts that “90% [of North Cross students] Study a World Language,” but how well are these languages preparing students to participate in an expanding global community?
Of the three world languages that are taught at North Cross, French, Latin, and Spanish, not one originates from an area outside of Western Europe. If this is true, then how can our school advertise that its Language Department adequately prepares students to participate in a global community, when all three languages are confined to one part of the globe?
Although Spanish and French are spoken throughout much of Latin America and Africa, most students studying these languages concentrate their studies in Spain or France, obviously European countries. There are, of course, benefits to learning these languages: Spanish is widely spoken throughout the United States, which makes it very advantageous for any American to learn the language, French is used often in the diplomatic world, and Latin can be used to study the ancient Greeks and Romans as well as to provide an introduction to the plethora of Romance languages found throughout Europe. Although these languages are beautiful and useful, learning Spanish, Latin, and French limits not only students’ academic studies, but also limits their ideas, values, and, indeed, very thoughts to the narrow, un-diverse views of the Western world.
According to the 2007 edition of Nationalencyklopedin, one of the most prestigious encyclopedias in the world, the top five languages most spoken in the world today are Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, and Portuguese, not counting English. French does not rank in the top 10, and Latin is not spoken at all. While one can find some justification for teaching Spanish, how is teaching French and Latin useful for students who wish to engage in a global community?
When asked about how well the World Language Department prepares students for this task, Dr. Christian J. Proctor, headmaster, said that he believes the Department accomplishes it well.
“I do think [the World Language Department] prepares them well,” Proctor said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not an interest or reason to take a non-western language.”
However, North Cross does not offer a non-western language, so, if such an interest existed, North Cross would be unable to accommodate this desire. However, other schools in our area have made room for other languages, most notably Hargrave Military Academy, which has added Mandarin to its department, and is planning to add Arabic within the next few years. It seems that students who wish to study true world languages are better suited at institutions other than North Cross.
Wanda Finney, World Language Department Chair, was also asked about how the Department prepares students for the global community, however, she declined to comment.
Emmanuelle Greenwell, Upper School and Middle School French teacher, said that she believes more languages should be added to the curriculum, but languages such as Latin and French should remain.
“Well, I think that we are still teaching, we meaning the U.S. and Europe, these three languages because they are the connected base of everything; it’s traditional,” Greenwell said. “I think we should have a Mandarin class, probably also an Arabic class; why not Russian also?”
While adding more languages would be ideal, each new language in the curriculum is an added cost on the school, which already has a constrained budget, as Dr. Christian J. Proctor explains.
“Every time we add another teacher with a whole new discipline,” Proctor said, “it’s an added expense.”
While Spanish, French and Latin are incredibly beautiful languages and deserve a place in North Cross academia, they render much of the world inaccessible to students who are ignorant of languages such as Mandarin, Hindi, or Arabic, which are more important, and more “Worldly,” than the languages that are currently taught at North Cross. Perhaps if the school would begin teaching these languages, the banner outside Willis Hall could read: “100% Study a World Language.”