To communicate effectively in a new language and to develop an understanding of the culture, literature, and history of another country: these are the goals that the language department sets for Emma Willard students.
Whether studying Chinese, French, Latin, or Spanish, every student experiences rigorous classroom training and stimulating opportunities for learning a new language in action. In language study, traditional classroom practice is enhanced by films, excursions, language tables, and guest speakers. Annual school-sponsored trips abroad provide students with the unparalleled experience of living the language as they are learning it.
Which Language Should You Choose?
Mastering skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing Chinese can be challenging. The language has four tones that are not easily perceived by a Westerner, and the system of writing characters can take years to learn. On the other hand, the grammar is relatively straightforward compared to that of many other languages. Learning Chinese is a good introduction to other Asian languages such as Japanese and Korean, and about one-fifth of the world's population speak some form of Chinese as their native language. Mandarin Chinese is the official language. It is a language that can be useful for young women seeking a career in business, banking, or international affairs.
The study of French has always been popular in the United States because French is part of the North American cultural heritage. French words and expressions are commonly used in everyday English; French heroes like Lafayette and Rochambeau played critical roles in American history. Although scholars study French for its famous logique and its rich literary tradition, French is an important political and economic tool as well. Not only is French still spoken in some parts of the United States and Canada, it is also the lingua franca in many other parts of the world where the United States has been establishing economic and political ties, among them West, Central, and North Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.
Latin was the language of educated discourse in Europe for over two thousand years. Resonances of Roman culture exist in all fields of inquiry, from politics and literature to science and mathematics. The study of Latin can provide invaluable aid with the literary English favored by the SATs, college professors, Herman Melville, and The New York Times. A student of Latin gets regular exposure to the close reading of texts, detailed grammatical analysis, etymology, literary themes and devices, and the foundations of European history. While Latin is no longer a widely spoken language, it is experiencing a renaissance as Latin “speakers” from all over the world connect in colloquia on the Internet.
To speak Spanish is to be able to communicate with the citizens of over two dozen nations and the increasingly numerous Hispanic communities within the United States. For young women seeking careers in law, medicine, social work, government, banking, etc., it is likely that some of their clients will be Spanish-speaking, whether they practice here or abroad. The syntax of Spanish follows that of English fairly closely, and its orthography is phonetic. Learning to speak Spanish also develops a sense of oral rhythm. For many students Spanish is an excellent starting place for learning several languages.
New students who have begun the study of a new language and plan to continue with that language must take a placement examination. The language department evaluates the examination and places students accordingly. Any student, new or returning, who has not studied a particular language for a period of one year or longer and wishes to continue study in that language, must take a placement examination. A student who wishes to skip a required year of language study by completing the work elsewhere must pass the Emma Willard final exam in the corresponding course. Students who enter Emma Willard and are placed above the third level of a language are exempted from further language studies unless they are entering freshman or sophomore year. In that case they are required to study a new language for a minimum of two years.