Foreign language class sparks an interest in learning more


When we talked about summer plans, my son said there were two things he really wanted to do during break - art projects at home and the French class at Washington County Free Library.

So I stocked up on construction paper and signed him up for the class, which is one of several being offered this summer.

This is the fourth year that free foreign language classes have been taught at the library, according to Mary Summerville, co-chair of Friends of the Library, a group that raises funds for and sponsors programs at the library.

The program has become so popular that children have to be turned away.

"We'd love to expand the language classes if we had teachers who would volunteer," Summerville said.

Most of the teachers are college students who donate about 10 hours of time over the course of a week. Friends of the Library reimburses teachers for materials used in class.


This summer children could pick from German, Japanese, French and Spanish. There were two classes offered in Spanish, one at the library's main branch in Hagerstown and one at the L.P. Snyder Memorial Branch Library in Clear Spring.

A flier was sent home with public school children on a Thursday. By Monday, the classes were filled, said Ann Frushour, a member of the group's summer foreign language committee.

The goal is to teach children the basics - numbers, colors, greetings - and to spark an interest in studying a foreign language.

"We really know in one week's time we're not going to teach them to speak Japanese or French," Summerville said.

The atmosphere is fun and light. This week French students have played gummy-candy bingo to help them remember French names for numbers.

Teacher Richard Hopkins plans to make French bread, bring in grape juice and perhaps some cheese for the children to try today, the last day of class.

"This is not to just introduce them to French as a language but as a culture," says Hopkins, a graduate of Hagers-town Community College who had four semesters of French. "Language really is a cultural thing.

"It's about how the French think, how they see the world."

During class, Hopkins explained that French pronunciations can be complicated. There are silent letters to consider, sometimes the ending consonants are swallowed and beginners have to think about what their mouths are doing.

"It's a different way of forming your lips, almost like you're trying to kiss somebody," a comment that caused a few giggles and gags from the mostly 7- to 10-year-olds.

Ginny Kay Durham of Hagerstown has twin 7-year-olds, Peter and Freddy, in the class.

They attended Hagerstown Children's School for preschool and kindergarten and enjoyed the language and culture incorporated in the Montessori approach, Durham said.

"I think young children are very interested in learning about different countries, foods and cultural things," Durham said. "I think it's a very nice service that the library provides."

After the first class, her boys wanted to know if they could take German, Japanese and Spanish, too.

"I commend the HCC program for having students who can do this," Durham said.

Terrie Angle, HCC Professor of Foreign Languages, said as a student Hopkins motivated other students to try harder.

"He was an inspiration," said Angle, chair of the Humanities Division at HCC.

Hopkins, 22, wishes more people would come forward to help with the library program.

"If there's enough interest in foreign language in this community, people could say, 'I'm going to make it my responsibility to spark an interest in this.'"

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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