Stepping Up Language Learning

In high school, learning languages sounded like the coolest thing to me…until I actually got into my French class. I was given a textbook full of random vocabulary and tons of grammar points that I had to learn. We were quizzed on the information weekly and tests came every month. The classes themselves weren’t great in structure. The teacher would just go over the grammar and pick our minds to see if we learned the new 25 vocabulary words assigned this week. After everybody was on track, we moved on…on to more grammar and another set of 25 vocabulary words. Oh, and this also went on for the next 4 years that I took French…

The problem wasn’t with the grammar or the vocabulary. Those two are the basis for language learning and are extremely important. The problem was that we weren’t using them at all, and so, everything that I just learned was gone within the next two weeks.

Instead of actually interacting with us and engaging the students, high school foreign language teachers at my high school would just talk in the foreign language. The way they got students involved was a rule that stated students couldn’t speak English. Yet, teachers almost always had a magical question you could ask in the foreign language to use English:

May I speak in English? Is English okay?

And this phrase really wasn’t hard to find! Usually it was at the top of a common phrase sheet or directly on the syllabus. I will admit that this kind of question is good for starting off in a language, but for some reason, this was good enough for teachers during my 5th year of the language. High school language learning was just not good for me…at all.

When I stepped into my Korean class at OSU, however, it was like a whole different world. The first day of actual class involved us getting up to recite a dialogue with another person in another language that we had to memorize the day before…


This was more talking in two days than I did in my whole first year of French…so maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but man, did it feel like I had actually accomplished something.

The good thing about most Asian languages at Ohio State is that they are all structured in a way that gets you talking and interacting in a foreign language. You memorize conversations, recite them in class, and apply what you learned from them to different situations. Some days you go over the grammar and vocabulary, but most of that stuff is done at home. The times you do go over them in class is just to reinforce ideas and get any questions you may have had out of the way. Which is great.

I had already learned some Korean on my own before I took the class, and it put me at an advantage during the first semester. However, come second semester, people are already beginning to catch up and my lead is slowly shrinking. It was amazing to watch how quickly the course is moving, but it was even more exhilarating watching how quickly the other students were progressing. I am actually quite jealous…but I don’t let it show.

Although I cannot speak for the European languages, and any of the other languages for that matter, I got to watch a Spanish class everyday before my Korean class. As I sat there waiting, I realized the structure was somewhat similar. They didn’t have the conversations that we did (or maybe I just missed them), but the teacher got them involved. He made everyone repeat after him, asked questions and only allowed answers in Spanish, and set up scenarios for people to create dialogue. So simple, yet not what I experienced in high school.

Whether you are afraid of foreign languages, had a bad experience with them, or believe that they are useless in your life, try to give them a second chance. Ohio State offers more than 30 languages, so there’s bound to be one you find interesting. Just give it a shot and make yourself stand out! Nothing looks better to another person than knowing a second language. It shows you can appreciate another culture.

Personally, I recommend Korean :]