The nasal crooning of French and the rolling R s of Spanish delight many students, but others yearn for more exotic linguistic adventures.
They can find lesser-taught foreign languages at several high schools in Toledo and Monroe County.
In addition to the Spanish, French, German, and Latin classes in many area schools, Toledo Public Schools teach Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, and the Monroe County Intermediate School District started a Japanese language program this year.
“The students wanted to do something different,” said Joanne O Leary, the Japanese teacher at Monroe County ISD. “They wanted a real challenge.”
About 1,720 Michigan students and 1,260 in Ohio study Japanese in public high schools, according to informal surveys by the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages and Ohio Department of Education.
Monroe County has 23 students taking Japanese through its interactive network, which broadcasts the class from the county s ISD building to several high schools.
“We polled our students last year to see what kinds of classes they would like to take,” said Mike Krauss, distance learning specialist at Monroe County ISD. “Japanese was one of the most widely requested classes.”
Toledo has 115 students enrolled in its Japanese class at Bowsher High School. Bowsher has offered the class for more than 15 years, and Kristi Pawlak said enrollment has doubled since she began teaching it five years ago.
“It s becoming really popular in the kids culture because of Japanese video games and animation,” she said. “I m getting a lot of male students because of the pop culture.”
Japanese can be a particularly challenging language because instead of our alphabet, its writing system uses two alphabets and hundreds of intricate characters, called kanji, that represent entire words.
Similar characters are used in the Mandarin Chinese language, which is taught even less frequently in U.S. high schools. The College Board, which offers tests for high school students to earn college credit, estimates fewer than 50,000 American students study Chinese, compared to more than 1 million who take French and 4 million studying Spanish.
Chinese classes began at Toledo s Start High School many years ago, and they continue this year with a new teacher, Hong Zhu, who was born in China. She has 80 students in her classes.
“The students realize Chinese is difficult, but most of them work really hard,” Ms. Zhu said. “Before the final examination, I worried about them, but afterwards, I was happy for them. They all passed.”
Ally Klein, a Start student in her second year of Chinese classes, said China is becoming an important business partner with the United States, so her language study might be useful in finding a job.
“Taking Chinese is cool because you re different from everybody else,” she said.
The College Board announced in December it will create an advanced placement course in Chinese, which will allow students to get college credit in the language. The organization decided in September to design an advanced course for Italian, which has gained popularity in the last decade. About 1,200 Ohio students and 2,160 in Michigan study Italian.
The College Board is considering advanced-placement courses in Japanese and Russian, which also is offered at Start High.
Toledo plans to continue all its current language programs as long as enrollment stays strong, curriculum director Glenda Hathaway said.
Russian class sizes have increased steadily, teacher Laura Helpman said. In addition to teaching 50 Start students, she shares basic Russian skills with children in the district s program for gifted elementary students.
Toledo high schoolers have won first place in the state s Russian Olympiada language contest the last five years, Ms. Helpman said.
“Our kids have consistently won medals,” she said. “I m very proud of them.”