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Foreign language may return to middle schools

December 17, 1997

Foreign language may return to middle schools

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

A committee of local teachers is proposing that foreign language studies begin in middle schools, saying the courses help students develop their thinking skills and increase their acceptance of other cultures.

The Washington County Board of Education accepted a report on the proposal Tuesday night, and one board member predicted foreign languages will be returned to middle schools and elementary schools within two years.

Foreign language was eliminated in middle schools about 1980 due to budget constraints, said Board of Education Vice President B. Marie Byers.

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"We're into the world of diversity and foreign languages are really being required again," Byers said.

Washington County is one of two counties in the state that does not teach foreign language in middle schools, according to Barbara Rice, supervisor of English, reading and foreign language.

The Maryland State Department of Education recommends that the study of foreign languages begin no later than middle school and preferably in elementary school, Rice said in a report to Superintendent of Schools Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

In high school, students must take at least two years of foreign language.

Although there are no foreign language classes in middle schools, Hancock Middle-Senior High School has started a pilot Spanish course. Byers said the course will likely become a model for other schools.

Rice's proposal calls for a 6th-grade course that introduces students to many different languages, plus sign language. In the 7th grade, students would select a foreign language of their choice followed by another year of foreign language in 8th grade, according to Rice's proposal.

The benefits of teaching foreign language has been well-documented, Rice said.

Studying foreign language opens pathways in the brain that are not usually accessed through other methods, Rice said.

The result is an increase in reasoning ability, verbal and spatial ability and increased performance in language arts and reading. Studying foreign language also increases multicultural awareness and acceptance of other cultures, Rice said.

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