Foreign Languages in Middle School & High School

Parent Q&A

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  • My student wants to take a foreign language not offered at Berkeley High, and we are beginning our search of local or online colleges that offer it.  Is there a way to find out if there are "approved" institutions we should be selecting from?  I'd appreciate any and all advice from parents whose student got credit toward graduation for classes taken off campus.  Thanks!

    Our daughter took an online college level Hebrew class that was easily approved. It met twice a week in the evening live. Cal offers Hebrew but it was mid-day & too hard to get to & not miss BHS classes

    Near the end of my daughter's freshman year in high school she expressed interest in learning a language not taught at Berkeley High. She applied and was accepted to Cal's summer session and took an intensive 8 week language course that met M-F, 4 hours per day. The school/homework was intensive but she survived and succeeded and the 10 unit Cal course transferred as 30 high school units. BHS registrar, Ms.Barbara Mellion can answer all your questions about credit towards graduation. My daughter took another 3 unit summer session course at Cal the following year that counted towards history and transferred as 9 units of credit at BHS. When my daughter learned she could graduate a year early by taking political science at Berkeley City College during the fall semester of her junior year, she did and then took BHS Government with the seniors as a junior which allowed her to graduate from BHS in three years. Totally doable. Good luck!


    My son took his foreign language class at Silicon Valley Online High School and it was accepted at BHS. The counselors usually have a list of approved institutions as well.

    Best of luck 

    Local Community Colleges offer many languages including ASL. One semester is equal to a year of high school I believe 

  • Foreign Language: Required vs. Recommended

    (3 replies)

    My kid is a junior in high school and has two years of foreign language under his belt. To be honest, the instruction he's received hasn't been great. He's signed up for a third year because that's what everyone does... But it's the COVID era, when we're all taking time to think about what's important in life. Another year of foreign language doesn't enthuse our child or us. At least not in this setting (a high school with the block system where you take the class only half the year).

    How detrimental to his college apps will it be if he bows out with the minimum two years of foreign language?

    Overall he's a B+ish student who will apply to some CSUs and out-of-state public universities. He does not plan to apply to UCs.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you might have.

    For the places he is interested in applying, meeting the 2 year minimum requirement will be fine.  No need to force himself to do a third year.  One consideration, though, is if a major he is thinking about might require foreign language and if he takes the third year, he could possibly test out of that.  My son knew he wanted to do Mechanical Engineering and stopped at two years. He was accepted to Cal Poly SLO (his first choice), Oregon State, and UCSC.  He is now doing the Master’s portion of Cal Poly’s Mechanical Engineering Blended (4+1) degree program and will graduate in June with a BS and MS.

     I would advise him to drop the third year but replace it with something interesting to him that is a real challenge.  Ideally, something in a subject area that addresses the purpose of the foreign language requirement - to become familiar with our global world - such as AP world history, history of religion, or an in-depth exploration of a continent or culture.  Also, consider taking it online from a foreign high school or college, where he can literally hear the material from a non-American perspective.   Then if asked why he stopped at two years, he can legitimately say that the instruction at his school was poor so he sought out a better way of becoming competent in one or more foreign cultures. Good luck!

    CSUs just look at whether they have taken the requirements, and their GPA (and test score except I think if you have a certain GPA you don't need the test, if this is still the same as when my son applied few years ago.) If you have the required number (which depends on your major, if it is an impacted major), you get in. (This does not apply to Cal Poly which is more like a UC.) Universities who do a "holistic" review aren't going to rule out a student because he didn't like one subject, but do generally like for the student to have selected challenging courses for junior and senior year.

  • Advantage to taking middle school Spanish?

    (8 replies)

    Is there any advantage to taking Spanish during middle school when you matriculate at Berkeley High?  Besides the obvious ones of getting earlier exposure to a foreign language, etc... Does it help with getting more advanced classes (if one wants to continue with the language) or getting more electives later on?

    My child is at Willard, currently really enjoying the social aspects of school but not academically challenged at all.  She is really interested in some of the fun electives for 7th and 8th grade like Growing leaders, etc... but is wondering if Spanish would provide more challenge and benefit her in the long run.  

    Two years of middle school Spanish allows you to skip one year of BHS Spanish--so starting in Spanish 2 instead of 1. It's not a huge advantage. Your child will undoubtedly take language in high school and whether she starts with 1 or 2 isn't a very big deal. I've had one kid who did middle school language and one who didn't and the one who did has more regrets because she thinks she would have preferred some of the electives. 

    My child is a seventh grader in Spanish at Willard. We steered him towards it as the most academic of the elective offerings at Willard. The class doesn't seem to be very rigorous. I think they explore a lot of vocabulary, but I'm still waiting for him to learn some conjugations.

    Sure. She would take spanish 2 or 3 as a freshman. Very challenging for my son- unlike his other freshman classes.

    Middle school Spanish is worthwhile only if it is a "meaty" course that covers the entire first year high school curriculum. Often times, middle school language classes are not demanding, consisting primarily of games, songs, and minimal vocabulary, and students who believe they are prepared for a second or third year high school language course because they earned an "A" in middle school, are in fact, not ready at all. This can be deeply disappointing as they realize they must repeat Spanish 1. You and your daughter need to consult with a Willard counselor to learn how previous students who have studied Spanish at their school fared in Spanish once they moved on to Berkeley High. 

    If, however, your daughter wants exposure to the language and is not as concerned with immediate advancement, the sooner she takes Spanish the better! I have witnessed students become nearly fluent in Spanish in four-five years time, which is a phenomenal accomplishment!  Best wishes to your daughter! 

    (retired high school Spanish teacher levels 1-AP)  

    If you want to advance through advanced language classes in high school, taking language in middle school could be an advantage in that it gets you into a second-year language class as a freshman. But if your child doesn't know yet whether that's something they want, it may not be a real motivating factor.

    My daughter took Spanish for two years in middle school. It was pretty mediocre (not at all academically challenging.... she too was not really challenged in middle school) and she didn't feel like she learned much. She's had a better experience at Berkeley High, but still not great. She's a sophomore and doesn't want to continue with language after this year. 

    I guess the advantage for her is that she now has 3 years of language on her transcript, basically and can focus on other interesting classes/electives at Berkeley High.

    So maybe it's sort of a decision of whether to have that opportunity in middle school or in high school.

    Also, if your child is interested in languages other than Spanish and French (I think at some Berkeley middle schools only Spanish is offered), there are more options once they get to Berkeley High. 

    I definitely recommend that your child get started with Spanish, especially if she is not being academically challenged.  That way, once at Berkeley High, she may place into a higher level class at entry, and be able to take AP Spanish and/or AP Spanish Lit later on.

    My child's Spanish teachers at Berkeley High were good to excellent.  Same for the English teachers.  Not so for the Math and Science teachers, unfortunately.

    We are not part of the Berkeley school system, so YMMV.

    I overrode my son and put him in middle school band rather than the "fun electives" in his first year of middle school.  Total, unmitigated disaster.  Partially because the band teacher at his middle school is an award-driven harpy who doesn't give two $iii$ whether the kids actually learn and like music, and partially because son would've been more willing to actively learn in classes he chose and liked.  Even at 11, he wanted a voice in those decisions (rightly so, I now realize in retrospect).  Having your child like their classes instills a love of learning rather than a "I gotta take this cuz dem de rulz" kind of attitude.  Your child will get a healthy dose of that anyway with graduation and college entry requirements in high school.  

    My child went to Willard and we explored this also. The problem with taking Spanish in middle school is that you have to commit to two years, so it eats up the elective option for 2 of the 3 years your kid is there -- no art, no computers, no music, no growing leaders. Among my son's friends, only one kid took Spanish at Willard, and he came from a Spanish-speaking family, so the class was viewed (by the kid) as an easy A. I can't think of any other advantage to taking Spanish in middle school unless you have a kid who has absolutely no other interests besides speaking the Spanish language. Wait until high school. There is more time in high school to satisfy the two-year language requirement while still taking other electives. Plus, who knows, maybe your daughter decides she is more interested in one of the other languages available at the high school level.