Dropping a language class after two years? That’s overrated.


This is my Chinese class on the seniors' last day. We celebrated with large amounts of delicious Chinese food and sharing stories of the last three years all together at Whitman and the two years we spent together learning Chinese at Pyle. Photo courtesy Clara Koritz Hawkes.

By Clara Koritz Hawkes

At this point in my high school tenure, there’s one mystery that continues to elude me: why people drop languages after they reach the measly two year requirement.

As someone who has stuck out six—sometimes painful, but mostly rewarding—years in the county’s Chinese curriculum, it’s off-putting when fellow students view language classes as worthless time fillers or as an easy class that ‘looks good’ for college transcripts.

We shouldn’t just write off the language department as a group of cute, wholesome women who dole out vocabulary quizzes and videos with grammatically incorrect subtitles. Instead, we should embrace our languages and the bonds they help us create—not only with the friends we make in those classes—but with the cultures we would normally have no other connections to.

While MCPS’ foreign language curriculums aren’t perfect, the ultimate benefits of learning a language in high school are well worth it. Learning Chinese has opened me up to a rich, interesting culture that I had no clue about prior to my embarking on the tumultuous adventure that is learning the Chinese language.

Not only that, but the 25 people I’ve gotten to spend the last six years with have vastly and positively contributed to my middle and high school experience. Because we stuck it out through all the random vocab quizzes, oral presentations and confusing videos, we understand one another pretty well. The simple goal of trying—and sometimes struggling—to pass the class brought us closer together.

In fact, we’ve gotten so close that by the end of the hardest Chinese class and a horrendous AP exam, a senior in my class handed me a list of “Chinese memories” that we’d been compiling for the past two years. The 60 item long list includes many a funny, embarrassing and confusing memory, and I’m very glad to have it in my possession. They range from the name of the T.V. host whose show we would watch weekly (Mark Roswell) to projects we were assigned back at Pyle in Ms. Hsu’s Chinese 2 class.

Now, I’m not saying that you should stay in a language class simply to make friends; that’s just an added benefit. Beyond that, according to my mother—who’s fluent in four languages—the longer you keep up with a language, the more likely it is that you’ll retain even pieces of the language when you’re older. And for all of my frantic, college-preparing, ultra-Whitman fiends, it demonstrates that you’re someone who stays committed.

While I understand why some people quit their languages—they really didn’t have the time or had a teacher they didn’t get along with—I do think that we’re often far too quick to dismiss languages as a waste of time; in reality, they may be some of the most valuable courses Whitman offers. And, who knows? If you stick around long enough, you too, could procure a wholesome list of all your favorite memories.