To take or not to take

Examining the popularity of one foreign language over another.


A tree depicting Linguistic Evolution through Latin roots. Graphic | Dhruvika Randad

Dhruvika Randad

Modern-day communication tells a tale of linguistic evolution since the day humans started to communicate with words and sounds that eventually lead to alphabets, scripts, pronunciation and accents that when put together, creates a code in itself: a language.

“When the Roman Empire fell, the unique dialects spoken in different parts of the Roman Empire then developed into their own language so it’s like linguistic biology,” language department lead and Spanish teacher Molly Guadiamos said. “So what was probably different accents or dialects, I can still understand you, but if I speak a different language then I can’t.”

French teacher Janissa Zahn talks about the molding of different dialects that become languages; with geographical separation, another line of languages is developed, referring to this continuous process as linguistic evolution.

“People were isolated as groups and so then eventually, when they met each other, they didn’t understand each other’s language and so then another language developed with those people being together,” Zahn said. “It’s like linguistic evolution where you see languages evolving even today … like the way English has changed since the time of Shakespeare, right?”

However, linguistic evolution also brings linguistic stigmas. With a variety of factors that come into play, there is no pinpointed answer to the criteria of how language truly is compared today except through stereotypes and social pressures.

A lot of people take Spanish because it’s exercised as the norm back from 8th grade and even 7th grade,” sophomore Akshara Kuduvalli said. “It’s ingrained in their brain that they’re supposed to take Spanish.”

Societal norm is an evolutionary process in itself that is dependent upon its location and the influencing factors around it that help shape the society’s viewpoint and disregarding the others altogether.

“I feel like the arguing about Spanish is right for the most part, but you should not disregard French as a language because it’s also a romantic language and French is still used in parts of Europe, Senegal speaks it, parts of Africa speak it, Canada speaks, a lot of places speak it,” sophomore Avni Dubey said. “You shouldn’t disregard one language over the other. Your choice is your choice but don’t disregard other people’s.”

As a French student, she believes that the societal norm that has built up over time has affected the way people perceive the other languages, especially when it comes to another widely spoken language like French. According to Dubey, the stigma comes with the possible disregarding of other languages, something she’s noticed between Spanish and French.

“It’s the norm … [to] take Spanish … at Monta Vista because a lot of people don’t take a language because they’re interested in it … [but] because of the credit and it is a requirement,” Kuduvalli said. “[If] they are actually trying to enjoy the language that they’re taking, a lot more people would be taking Chinese, Japanese and French and … there wouldn’t be such a sheer majority taking Spanish.”

According to Zahn, family pressures can also affect a student’s decision when it comes to taking a language in terms of its usage. However, these factors are often due to the location and environment.

“Families or parents have this idea that one of them is more important or one of them is more useful or one of them is more common,” Zahn said. “So the parents want the students to take that language … [but] if they’re interested in a language, they’re probably going to try harder to learn it than if you’re just forcing it on them and at least with a language, you have a choice so why not let them make the choice?”

Guadiamos adds on by emphasizing the cruciality of motivation and how that has a powerful impact. She believes that it especially becomes clearer when the comparison between two languages is simply very little to none.

Some people really do that thing where they’re thinking that Spanish is easier or French is harder … [but] structurally, French 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is actually the same level of difficulty because the grammar is just so similar,” Guadiamos said. “I [tell people], ‘What’s really important is your own motivation.’ If you are interested in French art culture or your dream is to go to France … then studying French would be a cool thing for you to do.”

She reinstates the power of motivation but also clarifies the comparisons between French and Spanish.

“French and Spanish are actually very similar in difficulty of grammatical concepts because they’re almost identical … gender agreement, adjective agreement, same kinds of tenses,” Guadiamos said. “That concept of easier versus hard, I think, only comes in the very first few weeks, French being, you have to learn what certain letters, what sounds they make and there are a lot more letters that are not pronounced in French so people think that’s what makes it harder whereas in Spanish, you see the letters and you pronounce the letters.”

Zahn states that having motivation can play a role in how someone chooses to learn a certain language, which is what drives the student to be more passionate about learning the language instead of being forced. However, according to sophomore Saili Natu, it isn’t simply motivation that affects the decision, but also experience.

My [French] teacher, he was absent for most of the year, so whatever little I learned, it was really, really hard for me because he would just come and go and so in my mind, French was a really hard language,” Natu said. “I had my reason for choosing Spanish, one was California [having a Spanish influence] and in my head, French is a harder language because it didn’t work out for me but I think, had it been a different situation, French might have worked out better for me and I wouldn’t have taken Spanish this year.”

Zahn agrees with Natu as she states that experience and location can play an influence, affecting the way a language is perceived within society.

“If you look at how many students here [who] take Spanish versus French or Japanese and Chinese even, it’s got this reputation,” Zahn said. “A lot of places, if they have to get rid of a language, they get rid of French because Spanish is just more popular. But it would be interesting to see the statistics in other countries … because it’s probably not that way.”

Sophomore Pragya Kallanagouder adds how different pressures can account for the drastic popularity difference between the languages.

“Definitely, whenever we have to make a decision like this, we consult a bunch of our peers and ask them what they’re taking,” Kallanagouder said. “[So] I do think that’s how a lot of people ended up taking Spanish just because everyone was taking it, which grew its popularity in a way and that’s how a lot of people ended up taking Spanish.”

Nonetheless, Zahn emphasizes the importance of taking a language no matter what it is or what the influences are because she believes that in the end, it’s only to benefit the person taking it.

“Learning a language helps you no matter what,” Zahn said. “Just the idea of working that part of your brain, it doesn’t matter what language you’re learning, you’re making your brain smarter by learning another language.”