The Unknown Benefits of Learning Languages at MHS
By Evan Zilber | March 24, 2022
High school language is generally thought of as a simple requisite with little practical benefit, but Montgomery High School’s foreign language program counters this notion. MHS offers Spanish, German, Latin, and French courses, each with their own idiosyncrasies and advantages.
These advantages go beyond learning “how to say things in that language,” according to Herr (the German equivalent of ‘Mr.’) Dominick, a German and Latin teacher at the high school. “Your native language shapes the way you perceive reality.” Thus, Herr Dominick’s teaching goes beyond imparting “strictly German skills” to his students. Rather, he “teaches [his students] how to think, how to study, and how to be active learners.”
Learning a language also involves logical means that often help STEM-oriented students. Aarush Gupta, a Montgomery senior in AP Spanish and a passionate student in physics, said learning “Spanish developed both [his] logical and intuitive thinking.” While at first he learned how to “conjugate verbs,” he’s now focused on “becoming a better communicator in Spanish.”
The implicit benefit of language-learning is perhaps no better understood than through Mr. Breyer’s perspective. As Montgomery’s primary Latin teacher, he said “speaking Latin [and] learning Latin slang are not” the goals of learning the language. Instead, “all we care about is reading” and building “meaningful contact with literature from antiquity.” Mr. Breyer’s passion in antiquity and linguistics started as chiefly academic. He took “classes with a very well-regarded Classics professor at Rutgers and became hooked.”
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For students with family members who speak a foreign language, this communicative benefit can be especially valuable. Konstantin Clark, a junior and honors German student whose family is from Germany, said “learning German allowed [him] to connect with his family in a way not possible before.”
This plus is also applicable to those who don’t have relations with the language they’re learning. The “thrill of traveling [through an exchange program] initially captivated” Herr Dominick, who isn’t a native German speaker, “not necessarily the thrill of language.”
Rachel Dentler, who graduated from Montgomery in 2019 “was able to practice her language skills in Madrid, Spain… and [is currently living] with a host family” as part of a study abroad program at Skidmore College. The six-week MHS German exchange program similarly immerses German students in the language’s origin — “you can always tell when a student went on the exchange” by their organic speaking ability, according to Dominick.
The implicit and explicit values of learning a language are often intertwined. Sami Mohammed, a senior and AP Spanish student, bridges the gap between these values through his assertion that Spanish “enlightened [him] about the diversity around [him].” Once he learned Spanish, he could “interact with entirely new cultures,” some of which he “didn’t realize existed.” Learning a language at MHS “opened his eyes to the many unique communities that surround [him].”