Anna Dubey ‘21
Though high school foreign language classes are often stereotyped as subpar, some contend that Heschel’s are an exception. Both students and teachers at Heschel feel that classes offered by the foreign language department are highly effective in educating students and increasing their comfort in Latin, Spanish, and French.
When explaining the goal of the Latin course, Latin teacher Sammie Smith said, “I’m really interested in getting students to read fluently and love what they’re reading.” She believes that in Latin, this goal has been fully achieved. “I have incredible readers in my classes. My seniors have been doing some very intensive work this semester” she reported. Accordingly, senior Rivke Goodman finds that her Latin class has endowed her with great proficiency in her language, despite her occasional doubt in her capabilities. “Outside of class, I’m a little more tentative to actually approach the language. Like if my parents send me a Latin inscription they found at this museum they’re visiting or something, I won’t have too much confidence in myself, but then Smith whips out this crazy piece of ancient Latin poetry and mythology in class, I can translate it and find the specific rhythm of those lines with almost no problem, which, honestly, is kind of mind-blowing,” she remarked.
Spanish, the most popular language elective, has also garnered largely positive results. Maya Singer, a junior who was fluent in Spanish prior to her Heschel language schooling, remarked, “I have not taken a traditional Spanish track at Heschel, but I continue to improve my skills and speaking abilities. The language department has been very supportive and has consistently helped me to improve my Spanish.” Sophomore Matt Friedman voiced slight discomfort with Spanish, mentioning that when conversing with Spanish-speaking friends, he “only get[s] bits and pieces,” but acknowledges that this may change after the completion of his Spanish high school courses.
Junior Isabelle Harrison-Bregman has found that her French class inspires her to improve her skills both inside and outside the classroom. She hypothesized that Heschel’s success in this regard is due to the teaching methods of her French teacher, Celine Clerfeuille, as well as the small class size. Harrison-Bregman also suggested that Heschel’s language program is so effective because it is optional; students may elect to take a foreign language class or have a study hall during the languages period. “As an optional class, everyone in the class wants to be there and improve their French, which makes for a productive class environment,” said Harrison-Bregman.
Several alumni have expressed their experiences with retention of their languages since graduating. Alumnus Gidon Kaminer commented, “I can’t speak Latin fluently, but I can still kind of understand texts and short phrases […] I still find it useful in many areas of my life in college. In my linguistics class, I find that having had the exposure to another language has made it easier to learn about other similar languages.” He continued, “There are lots of Latin terms in my philosophy class, so it’s cool and useful to know what they mean without having to look them up.”