“Es regnet heute?” an instructor asked a classroom. “Nein or ja?”
The young students all answered, “Nein!”
This was one of several activities taking place at the second session of the after-school world language program at the school. The German class was answering a number of questions as they learned new vocabulary, and the instructor was asking whether it was raining. A quick glance outside at the bright sunny day and they had their answer.
The program is offered twice a year, with classes taking place twice a week for six weeks. It is in its third year, and students have their choice of Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese, or Russian.
Sue Goldstein, one of the program coordinators, said Connecticut College funds the program through a grant and students from the college teach the classes. She said the goal is not to teach the language in full, but to give students an appreciation and basic understanding of it.
“Your worldview expands with language,” she said.
About 80 children participated in this spring’s program, the highest rate of participation so far. Usually there are more students who want to participate than there are available spaces, so selection is done by lottery.
“We would love to do more, but it takes a lot of adult supervision,” said Goldstein.
The classes each begin with a greeting. From there, they move on to a review of material, the teaching of new material, and an activity. These typically include things such as games, songs, and dancing.
“They do a lot of learning by doing,” said Kate Serio, another program coordinator.
In the Arabic class, students learned about phonetic pronunciation and the words for colors. The Russian class counted up to ten as a group, then individually. One of the two Chinese classes played a “four corners” game. Pictures of different fruits had been placed in different parts of the classroom, and the children ran to the one that corresponded with the vocabulary word given by the teacher.
Serio said the teachers also try to bring in cultural material whenever possible. This includes music, movie clips, and dance.
“The main focus is communication, but they also work on listening and reading and writing as well,” said Serio.