Fluency not expected in world language classes

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Dear Editors,

We were disconcerted to see the startlingly negative title of Katie Earles’ article on the efficacy of the language classes at Grady. We feel an obligation to remind readers and writers of the Southerner that fluency in a language is not something that is acquired easily. The proficiency standards published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages note that students do not acquire anything close to fluency in the high school curriculum. The ACTFL guidelines which identify proficiency levels as Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior place a student who has had two years of a language at Novice – High; at the end of the third year, Intermediate – Low; and at the end of 4 or 5 years, Intermediate – High. Advanced or Superior skill, i.e. true fluency, requires not only years of study (beyond the high school classroom), but generally comes only from living in target language-speaking countries. While 10+ years of Spanish in APS schools may lead a Grady student to believe that they ought to be able to hold a “full conversation” in their target language, this level of fluency and conversational proficiency is one that the AP level only begins to open a student to.

All of this said, we encourage students to share their language concerns with us and hope that their own goals toward functioning in the target language drive them to practice towards proficiency on a daily basis. We are grateful to Ms. Earles for devoting the final portion of her article to the motivation shared by many AP Spanish and French students to continue their study of the language in college. This is, after all, the goal of introducing students to language in high school – to sow the seeds of love for language and culture and to send students off to continue their study and perhaps even spend time traveling and immersing themselves in their target language.

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