In Morenci Area High School’s media center, most students are busy learning Spanish during the second hour class.
But there’s one student tackling Italian over on one side and two people behind him are learning Japanese. Another nearby is practicing French.
Foreign language study will never be the same in Morenci, and in fact, that’s not even what it’s called any more. The state education department now requires two years of world language.
For several decades Morenci offered only Spanish, but as enrollment decreased and funding along with it, the foreign language position was reduced to a part-time teacher.
A part-time language teacher isn’t easy to come by, so the decision was made this year to take the approach used by the Hudson school district. They turned to an electronic teacher: Rosetta Stone.
With that decision, Spanish was no longer the only language offered.
“The online program offers over 20 different languages,” said principal Kelli Campbell. “The majority of the students are taking Spanish, however, we do have a few that have chosen different languages.”
In addition to the Japanese, French and Italian mentioned above, there are two students studying German and one enrolled in Hebrew. One student started off with Arabic, said school councilor Diana Fallot, but that proved to be too much. Students were allowed to make a change through the first two weeks of school. Now they’re locked in.
Starting with next year’s freshman class, Michigan will require two years of a world language. Currently it’s only recommended.
“The flexibility for scheduling is wonderful,” Mrs. Fallot said, because now a student can enroll in language class any hour of the school day—or even at night.
“The school has issued licenses to individual students so they can access the program from any computer or device that has internet capabilities,” Mrs. Campbell said.
With the individual licenses, a teacher can log into an account to monitor each student’s progress.
Science teacher Kerry Nieman has that duty second hour, and she’ll soon be joined by a new paraprofessional who will be present in the lab throughout the day.
“It’s very interactive,” she said. “Students have to constantly communicate with the program. And no English is spoken.”
Speech recognition software determines how well a student is learning to speak the language.
There are five levels for each language offered and students are expected to complete one to one and a half levels each trimester. The state requires four trimesters of study.
“The program also allows for students to work at their own pace,” Mrs. Campbell said. “This offers advanced students the ability to work more quickly and allows those that need remediation the ability to do so without falling behind.”
When students complete the state requirement, they have the option of taking on another course and Mrs. Fallot knows of at least one senior who wants to do just that.
Hudson is using the program for the second year. The district requires all students to take two years of Spanish, then allows other languages to be studied after the requirement is fulfilled.
“This program has enhanced our course offerings and is the best language program on the market,” said teacher Kevin Reed who oversees Hudson’s program. “The program works extremely well.
“I particularly like that some of my students will log in at home to work on their language. It is like most things in life, the more effort they put into this course, the better their outcome.”
The second year is going more smoothly than the first, he said, with technical difficulties now ironed out.
Foreign exchange students have used the program improve their English speaking skills.
Morenci sophomore Colin Richardson chose to study Spanish because he figures he’s more likely to encounter speakers of that language than the others offered.
That wasn’t the case for classmate Chris Wilson.
“I was thinking of either Russian, German or Japanese and I went with Japanese,” he said.
He’s enjoying the challenge and says it’s easier than other languages.
Jayr Otero, a freshman, already speaks Spanish. He wanted something different, but not too different, so he’s learning Italian.
Freshman Malachi Hoffman took a practical approach in choosing French. His family goes to Canada often and he expects to encounter some French speakers there.
John Dibble, a freshman, wanted something other than Spanish so he decided to go with Japanese.
“I thought it would be interesting, but it’s more difficult than I expected.”
Mrs. Nieman said Rosetta Stone is getting good grades from most of the students, and she’s impressed with what she’s seen.
Mrs. Campbell is a fan, too, and she urges parents to visit the Rosetta Stone website and take a free demonstration of any language offered.
“It really gives you a sense of the instructional approach that the program uses which is different than the traditional classroom that many of us are used to,” she said.
That sounds good to sophomore Krysenthia Smith.
“I like how it lets us go at our own pace,” she said. “I like it better than the classroom.”