Philosophy for the Teaching of Classical and Modern Languages

In the teaching of foreign languages, the teachers in the Classical and Modern Language Department are committed to the proposition that all students can learn a foreign language. To enable students to gain as great a degree of proficiency as possible all modes of communication, we present our materials in as many differing ways and from as many different perspectives as possible. We therefore avoid at the beginning stages of instruction ability grouping of our students and embrace the tenets of differentiated instruction in order to maximize the opportunities that our students have in their learning. We are committed to assisting all students in any and all ways possible to gain maximum benefit from their work with us both within and without the classroom.

We use the target language in all instruction, even at the most elementary levels, as the principal, and eventually sole means of teacher and student communication. Our goal is to present the language in as natural and native a format as possible, encouraging our students to learn much the same way they learned their first language. At the beginning stages of language instruction we employ such methods as TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading & Storytelling), pictures, basic synonyms, and the like. With our more advanced students we encourage reading for meaning in context to decipher unknown vocabulary, as well as target-language-to-target-language definitions.

In the grammar arena, we strive increasingly and wherever possible to communicate and teach linguistic structures without resorting to formal grammatical terminology. Research has consistently pointed out the limited applicability of formal grammatical vocabulary as well as the futility in trying to impart such structures to the vast majority of students. Few native speakers of a language are able to discern and describe the grammatical components inherent in their utterances and writing, yet all are able to communicate their meaning and desires clearly and unequivocally in all or almost all instances. As we continue in challenging ourselves as teachers to impart the desirable levels of correctness in our disciplines, we gain greater insights not only into the languages we teach but in effective ways of instructing that more closely mirror our students’ comprehension and ability to properly implement what we teach.

Our goal is not perfection, but accurate communication, even with grammatical error. Our assessment system, all in rubrics that communicate the quality of our students’ achievement and not the quantity, speaks further to this purpose. Our dedication to maximizing our students’ learning is uncompromised and uncompromisable. To this end we shall be ever searching to discuss, to learn, to experiment, to implement, and to challenge both our own thinking and that of our students.


Philosophy for the Teaching of French

As one of two countries with perhaps the greatest philosophical, historical, linguistic, and constitutional ties to the United States (the other being England), and one of the core countries of western civilization in Europe, France continues to be an important focus of study in the 21st century. The French language, literature, cinema, and popular culture permeate our own and persistently lend to ours a cachet that almost defies explanation. In international relations, France is often a staunch ally, yet one whose point of view perennially frustrates and mystifies its Anglo partners. Through a study of the French language and its culture, one can begin to arrive at an understanding of and an appreciation for the happy commonalities and devilish contrariness that this fascinating nation offers us. Once a language of the elite, French is still the lingua franca that plays a vital role in today’s world of business,technology, art, diplomacy, medicine, science, fashion,tourism, diplomacy, cuisine, theater, literature.

The study of the francophone world gives one access to a cultural and historical treasure trove. Additionally, on the linguistic front, speaking French is a “must” to function successfully in this rapidly evolving economy: it is the second language on the Internet, the second most frequently taught language and the second largest exporter of food products in the world. Ranked on criteria that include the number of primary and secondary speakers using the language and the economic power of countries using the language,  French is the second most influential language in the  world, after English. According to some philological standards, almost 60% of words commonly used in English today were contributed by the French language or by Latin through French. Because the English language has adopted so many words of French origin, one’s English vocabulary can be vastly enriched, helping one to gain a better understanding of the English language and how it functions .  Moreover, knowledge of the French language is a logical and easy stepping stone to communicate in the other Romance languages.

France is not only the #1 tourist destination in the world, as well as the crossroads of Europe, but it is one of only two languages spoken on 5 continents. Knowing French gives one access to nearly 50 countries or regions in the world in which one can travel and communicate. It is, for example,the official language of 5 European countries, the official language (or one of the official languages) in 21 African states, and the official language of our Quebecois neighbors. In Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, education is conducted in French. French  enables one to communicate with the hundreds of thousands of francophone peoples of, for example, Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Haiti, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam — exposing one to a huge variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. If one never leaves the United States, one can still hear French spoken in Maine and Louisiana, meet new American citizens from Haiti, or share college life among francophone students.

In a world where international events are ever present and of growing concern, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate with our world neighbors, both near and far. Learning other languages can open doors to better international relations, economic opportunities and increased cultural awareness of other cultures as well as our own. Canada, the Caribbean and Francophone Africa present opportunities for future communication, understanding, and growth.


Philosophy for the Teaching of German

German, set against the obvious presence of English in the continent of Europe, remains the second most commonly spoken language from the Atlantic to the Urals. In a world that is increasingly reliant on fewer and fewer major languages for general communication a knowledge of German is a prized possession. Moreover, German is the language of a culture that has been historically the challenger and counterpoint to the mainstream, a culture sometimes worthy of emulation, in the more recent past a culture that evokes the strongest suspicion and contempt.

In the balance of the newly created European community, Germany is the deciding weight, third largest trading partner of the United States, a member of that small group of nations who determine the health of the world economy. As the countries of eastern and central Europe develop economically, the German language once again becomes their business language, and a foil to the century old Russian hegemony in that part of the world. Through that connection it has become a major force in international trade in the Far East. In addition, the rich cultural heritage of all German-speaking nations has left its mark everywhere from the music of Bach and Mozart to the novels of Thomas Mann and Günther Grass. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the German language writings of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud who, despite whatever revisionist interpretations to which they are subject, will be acknowledged by students of the history of ideas as seminal in the development of twentieth century thought.

The study of German serves as an alternative to the Latin/Romance linguistic experience. While it is commonly known that a large percentage of the vocabulary of English derives from Norman French, Latin, and Greek, it is sometimes forgotten that English belongs directly to the Germanic language group. While a third of the English vocabulary comes from Germanic, more important is the fact that the structure of English is much more immediately related to German. Learning German grammar teaches us much about English. Remnants in English of case endings, verbal apophony, umlaut in nominal formations, all these find resonance in German, not in Latin, Greek, or any of the Romance languages. If, as Herman Hesse said, The true profession of a man is to find his way to himself, then German provides the best vehicle for English speakers in making this journey.

The German program as constituted at Wellesley High School enables students to reach proficiency in the German language, and to experience its literature and civilization to various degrees of depth. The combination of proficiency in the language and a knowledge of the culture gives students tools for understanding not only the civilization of 100 million native speakers of German, but also for gaining greater awareness of the vehicle by which they themselves express their thoughts and desires, viz. the English language. Maintenance of the richness of this experience for all our present students, and the expansion of this program into other divisions of the school must remain our primary focus for the foreseeable future. The learning of German is a worthy endeavor for all who enter the Wellesley Public Schools.


Philosophy for the Teaching of Spanish

As a vehicle for understanding a multitude of civilizations in a multiplicity of ethnic configur-
ations, there is hardly a language available for ready study today that is more suitable than Spanish. As the earliest of what were to become the Romance languages, from its inception Spanish has established itself as both a principal purveyor of the concept of cultural diversity and as a main exemplar of intolerance. Consideration of both these postures is most important for students in today’s world. The growth of Spanish within the confines of the Iberian peninsula along with its spread beyond the borders of its land of origin have made it one of the most dominant linguistic forces in the world today.

The prevalence of Spanish in our own hemisphere, to be sure, offers a prime justification and motivator for as many Americans as possible to study and master this language. Although
Spanish is not a lingua franca like modern French and English, the number of countries that employ it as their primary language, when coupled with the number of Hispanic communities here in the United States that use it as a major means of communication within their own ethnic groups, produce a number of speakers that place it among the most commonly spoken languages of the world, and in many parts of our own country it now forms the second most commonly spoken idiom. This utility forms an important aspect of the study of Spanish. However, we are mindful that the learning of a language is not necessarily an end in itself, but more often a means to a  greater end.

Diversity of cultural and literary experience forms the other major component of what we believe
to be our principal philosophical thrust in having our students learn Spanish. Studying Spanish automatically involves one in the study and appreciation of the cultures of Spain itself, the Moors, eighteen of the countries of the Americas [many with pre-Columbian indigenous populations of major importance], the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, parts of Africa, areas in Turkey where Sephardic communities developed, islands in the Mediterranean, and many communities in the United States. An adequate expression of the richness of civilizations past and present of these nations and communities is impossible in a document as limited as this. However, we must stress that in a modern world that is moving beyond paying lip-service to the importance  of appreciating and understanding the variety and spread of cultural influence, the study of  Spanish offers incredible breadth and depth.

In a school context certainly one must pay additional attention to the literary contributions and degree of importance of the language in question. Here Spanish has excelled, with many Nobel laureates in Spanish having come from both Europe and North, Central, and South America. The quality, as well as quantity and variety, of outstanding works would be worthy of study in Spanish without the particular kudos associated with the Nobel prize, but this certainly adds a dimension of note.

In a world that shrinks by the day while simultaneously exhibiting an increasingly dizzying complexity, Spanish gives students a special opportunity to come to terms with this phenomenon. At the same time, the literary, linguistic, and other cultural contributions it makes to a student’s  life are of enormous and particular value. It is a language worthy of study by all.