Harder than Double-Science?: What It Is Like Taking Two Languages at THS


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Different languages being communicated

Junhyoung (Edward) Kim, Staff Writer

If you are a student at Tenafly High School, you may be familiar with the term “double-science.” Used to describe high school students who are taking two science classes in one academic year, the term “double-science” is frequently used by many teachers, counselors, and students. Opting to double up on science courses is a popular pathway for many students in Tenafly who are motivated to pursue STEM fields. I was also a double-science student during my first year of high school. Until everything changed. I’ve since become a “double-language” student for the past two years. 

Fast forward to a normal day of my sophomore year. I find myself taking out a piece of gently folded loose-leaf paper that I wrote on the day before. The loose-leaf paper contains Chinese characters that I am familiar with (well… sort of). After I walk into my class, I hear my Chinese teacher, Mrs. Sung, announce, “五分钟! (five minutes!)” This format of quizzes is one of Mrs. Sung’s many class traditions. Every week, students take a quiz that tests their knowledge of the definition, stroke order, and pinyin (romanized spelling of Chinese) of around 12 new Chinese characters. 

After my Chinese class ends, I head over to my next class. As I enter, I say, “Salut! Ça va? (Hello! How are you?).” I try to dispose of my pre-existing memory of Chinese grammar structures and quickly shift my brain to reviewing the imparfait (imperfect) grammar form of French. I hand in my homework from the previous night concerning naming clothing items in French, and I take my seat to start another quiz. I then engage in a lesson that revolves around everything from certain African customs to knowing how to describe clothing in different periods. 

Last year, this was what my Fridays typically looked like. It was challenging, but I loved the journey. However, interestingly, I wasn’t always able to recognize this passion for learning languages.

My journey learning Mandarin Chinese began in a tiny classroom in 6th grade in Tenafly Middle School. Carrying a notebook around the size of my palm, I was eager to learn this new language. As new vocabulary crisped out of my tongue, I was getting used to the rhythm of this unique song-like, tonal language. This passion quickly carried over to Tenafly High School. 

Then, just as I was about to start high school, the world was faced with something unexpected: COVID-19. Just as many other people’s lives were changed by the pandemic, my life was similarly influenced, both directly and indirectly. Language-learning was one of the many indirect ways the pandemic changed my life. 

As previously mentioned, I was bound to be a “double-science” student because of my interests in math. However, when the pandemic hit, I began to wonder whether I really found joy in pursuing math, my best subject. While reflecting, I was brought back to my experience of learning Chinese. I realized that I enjoyed learning languages more than learning math. This realization became my driving force to learn languages for the next two years. 

While I continued to learn Mandarin Chinese through my freshman year, I simultaneously self-studied French everyday after school using an app from my phone. I fell in love with language-learning for the second time. I reached out to Ms. Williams, a French teacher at THS, and received much support and mentorship. She became my official French teacher through my sophomore year, and I would like to say the rest is history.

Right now, my actual day is not so peculiar. However, it does take some effort to transition from one language to another. I want to say that it was quite a harrowing experience when my Chinese class and my French class were back-to-back last year. I am pretty guilty of saying “Oui (yes)” in my Chinese class and saying “ (correct)” in my French class. I don’t think I will ever forget the time I confidently walking into my French class shouting, “你好 (hello)!” 

I also sometimes find it challenging when I have tests for both classes on the same day. When I study for tests, I tend to shut off my brain for a specific subject after I finish studying. However, turning off the part of the brain that controls my language cognition abilities is extremely difficult. 

My friends sometimes ask me, “You are taking two languages? Why would you do that?!” At those times, I really do think about the challenging aspects of being a double-language student. However, I also remember the inner self-gratification I feel. The challenges I face propel my learning forward. I genuinely think that I am getting ready to become a global citizen as learning about culture is a byproduct of learning a language.