Why do fluent Spanish speakers take Spanish I?

By: Donna Diaz, Jackie Larios, Dulce Flores

It’s third period, and freshman Delmar Perez is bored. 


Perez speaks Spanish with his family at home. He sometimes speaks Spanish with his friends as well. But he’s taking Spanish I at Riverside this spring. 

“I am fluent in Spanish, but I still take Spanish one,” Perez said.

He’s not the only native speaker in Elizabeth Wagner’s third-period Spanish I. 

“I’ll have about 20 throughout my classes,” Wagner said. 

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Riverside offers many different sections of beginner Spanish classes, but very few advanced courses. During the 2021-22 school year, Riverside’s world languages department scheduled 10 sections of both Spanish 1 and 2, but only three sections of Spanish 3 and two sections of Spanish 4 (the department also offers Latin and French classes). 

“[The courses offered] are based on student interest and how many students sign up,” said Wagner, who teaches Spanish I and II. “In any foreign language, the first two levels are needed for acceptance into most North Carolina State Universities. And so those numbers are always higher. Naturally, you’re going to have fewer kids that are interested in pursuing more advanced levels for three and four.” 

TESTING OUT 

According to DPS enrollment data, roughly one-third of Riverside’s students speak Spanish at home. 

Students who already know Spanish don’t have to take Spanish I or II. Riverside has placement tests they can take to jump straight to an advanced class. 

To take the test, students ask their Spanish teacher for a copy of the diagnostic test. The test consists of 13 written response questions, such as “ ¿Dónde naciste?¿Cuánto tiempo has vivido en Estados Unidos?” y “¿Qué beneficios piensas obtener al estudiar el español formal? 

Students also have to complete a written composition about their experiences with the Spanish language, what they’re interested in studying and why they think knowing Spanish is an advantage. 

Once finished, students turn the diagnostic into any Spanish teacher Yamid Barbosa grades the test, and students get placed in the level of Spanish appropriate to their score. 

Perez knew about the placement test but chose not to take it. 

“I thought it would be easier [to take Spanish I],” he said. “[I took it] mostly for the reason of an easy grade.”

ANOTHER OPTION

When Barbosa grades the diagnostic test, he’s on the lookout for students for his “Spanish for native speakers” class. The class can be difficult or it could be easy, it all depends on the student 

“It’s harder to teach someone that doesn’t want to learn,” Barbosa said. ”So the idea in the class was trying to convey to the students the importance of learning a foreign language in the case of an English speaker. And in the case of a Spanish speaker, the importance of keeping and improving their Spanish. ”

Perez would have been a good candidate. Despite thinking Spanish would be easy, he would be able to advance his Spanish speaking skills in a class were in actually challenge him.

Barbosa said students in his native speakers’ classes have varied skills. 

“We try to do a quick review about what they were supposed to learn in elementary school in their countries, and they will move to the high school level in the country,” he said.”I try to fast track their reading and writing.” 

Knowing that Riverside High school’s population is 38 percent is Hispanic, the native heritage class should be an important class for Riverside High school, but only one teacher teaches it. 

Anna Kistler, an AP Spanish teacher at Riverside thinks that many students choose their classes based on their classmates. And with that stops students from taking harder classes.

“I think a lot of times students choose their courses, based upon what they hear their friends say,” Kistler said. “That’s a big part of it. They’ll ask around [about which classes and teachers their friends like],  which might not be the best fit for everybody. So I think [Riverside] needs to do a better job at getting the word out about these classes.”

Kistler thinks that if students knew more about the classes available they would be more willing to  challenges themselves instead of taking a class that might leave them bored everyday.

“Is a matter of inviting them in and letting them know it’s okay to try it, that it’s it, yes, it’s a challenge and it’s different, but that they can do it and experience success in it. And especially since they have such a good base in the language, that it’s not shouldn’t be something scary or and I think we just need to advertise a little bit more.”

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