Regina Onjiko

The Power of the Tongue: What Students Want Out of Urbana’s Language Department.

Over 7,000 languages are spoken worldwide. (About) 350 in the United States. And more than 100 in the state of Maryland. But at Frederick County’s high school world language program, only four are taught (five if you count American Sign Language): French, Spanish, Latin, and Ancient Greek. Does this number truly represent the diversity of one of the state’s most populated counties?

According to Nancy Levin of The Frederick News Post, there were 230,951 residents in Frederick County in 2017, and 4.7 percent of those residents spoke an Asian, Pacific Island, or other language at home, which makes up approximately 10,854 people. Shouldn’t they teach their kids their native tongue? 34.7 percent of residents who spoke another language spoke English “less than very well,” and 14.9% live below the poverty line, making access to private language tutoring a lot less probable.

And learning the language from family members isn’t as likely either. “My parents and their siblings (aunts and uncles) have their own lives to worry about,” says Regina Onjiko, a child of Tanzanian immigrants and sophomore at Urbana High, “between taking care of their kids and their jobs, they don’t have a lot of spare time to give me free language lessons. The most they can do for me and my cousins is pepper a little Swahili into our conversations, but that isn’t enough to make things like grammar rules or phonology stick.”

Another reason to expand the number and variety of languages taught is to not only benefit students whose families speak the same languages, but for others. “The availability of [more diverse] languages would cause more understanding of different cultures, beliefs, and their traditions,” says Abeeha Sohail, a child of Pakistani immigrants and freshman at Urbana High. And Sohail’s claims of cultural awareness being spread via language have actually been proven true through research done on how culture is spread via linguistics by Ming-Mu Kuo and Cheng-Chieh Lai, with certain words informing a person on the country’s pop culture (popular film, television, music, etc.), religions, and philosophical beliefs.

“I would argue that you should learn a language not many people speak, like Estonian,” adds Travis Zimmerman, a Career and Tech Education teacher at Urbana High, “because it keeps that language alive.” Students learning languages before they disappear can keep not only the tongue alive, but the region that it originates from history alive. The best time to learn a new language is before the age of eighteen years old, with things like grammar being able to stick to your young mind much better than after eighteen, from which there is steep decline. And learning and utilizing these languages can help the spread of a long-gone culture, keeping its history spoken aloud.

Works Cited

Kuo, Ming-Mu, and Cheng-Chieh Lai. “Linguistics across Cultures: The Impact of Culture on Second Language Learning.” ERIC Institute of Education Sciences,

Lavin, Nancy. “How Frederick County’s Foreign Language Speakers Navigate an English-Dominant World | Services | Fredericknewspost.Com.” The Frederick News-Post ,, 25 Mar. 2017,

Smith, Dana G. “At What Age Does Our Ability to Learn a New Language Like a Native Speaker Disappear? – Scientific American.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 4 May 2018,,before%20the%20age%20of%2010.

“World Languages | Academics/Curriculum.” Frederick County Public Schools | FCPS,,American%20Sign%20Language.