Recently, the Worldly Roman had the good fortune to sit down with Mrs. Dragonetti, head of the Language Department, to discuss a wide range of foreign language-related topics. During the interview, Mrs. Dragonetti shared her views on the biggest challenges about teaching foreign languages to High School students and how incoming freshmen should choose which language they want to study during their High School careers. She also shared with us her sage advice on how best to study a foreign language.
As a current Spanish teacher and someone who has studied languages for most of her life, Mrs. Dragonetti believes that the hardest part of teaching foreign languages to High School students is adolescents often do not recognize the power and value of knowing another language. Foreign languages provide access to “an endless amount of information, topics, opportunities and, overall, make you a richer person”. In fact, languages have the power to change a student’s view on the world because it gives the student an insider’s perspective of someone else’s way of life.
To Mrs. Dragonetti, it is all about passion. She urges students to choose which language they will study based on what they are passionate about. For example, if a student is passionate about etymology, then they should study Latin. Or if a student is curious about European history or culture of has in interest in romance languages then they should study French or Spanish. If a student prefers non-western topics, then perhaps the student should consider Mandarin or Japanese.
My father tells a lot of dumb jokes, and one he tells from time to time goes like this. A musician with a violin case strapped over her shoulder is walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City and needs directions to Carnegie Hall, the famous auditorium where the symphony plays. She walks up to a well-dressed stranger and asks, “How does one get to Carnegie Hall?” The stranger looks at her and says “Practice, Practice, Practice.” So it is with Ms. Dragonetti. To her, learning a language is a lot like “learning a sport or musical instrument: you need to practice in class and outside class.” Living in the modern world, there are endless opportunities for immersion into a foreign culture and language. You no longer need to travel to another country to immerse yourself in the native language and culture. Today, the Internet provides easy access to music, movies, podcasts and whatever other interests one might use to practice learning a language. Even locally, around Chicago, the opportunities abound. For example, Pilsen, Little Italy and Chinatown are very close to Latin and the downtown and are a great way to get to know the Hispanic, Italian and Chinese cultures and languages better and gain exposure to their respective languages. (They also have AMAZING food!) Latin offers many project week opportunities that are in countries where the native language is Spanish, French and even Chinese. In fact, Mrs. Dragonetti took kids to Guanajuato, Mexico where they participated in an immersion program with the Don Quijote school.
In the future, Mrs. Dragonetti hopes to change the way students look at languages and make languages more central to who the students are. Although there will not be any major changes next year in the Language Department, the Department will continue to put an emphasis on language proficiency, since “it is the most challenging and most important aspect of learning a language.”
Mrs. Dragonetti loves her job and is passionate about languages. With the Worldly Roman, she had a captive and friendly audience. Mrs. Dragonetti, Merci Beaucoup, Gracias, Gratias tibia, 谢谢.
-Natalie Braun (Junior)