By Joe Hadsall
Miller High School juniors Shelby Smith and Erika Keithley had to have the sombreros they wore on Tuesday. They were presents for their French teacher.
“Our French teacher is also the Spanish teacher,” Keithley said. “Instead of giving us hall passes, she makes us wear a sombrero to wherever we’re going.”
The students were among about 1,100 from 40 high schools in three states who attended Missouri Southern State University’s Foreign Language Field Day on Tuesday. The event featured competitive and recreational activities dedicated to giving students a chance to speak German, Spanish and French.
“This is a chance for students to see how they use a foreign language outside the class,” said Leslie Parker, director of the International Language Resource Center. “They can see the opportunities that await them and be around people who like the languages.”
Students competed in events such as poetry reading, skit performance, vocabulary testing and geography knowledge. But the field day also is known for its noncompetitive events, such as salsa dancing, origami lessons and conversation opportunities.
Angela Kunshek, a Spanish teacher at Girard (Kan.) High School, said she brought several students who didn’t compete in any event.
“There are plenty of things to do,” she said. “It’s nice for the students to have experiences with foreign languages outside the classroom.”
One of the activities that drew the most student participation was the conversation station.
MSSU students asked questions of participants in either French, German or Spanish. Students who answered back in the language received credit that they could use to buy prizes, such as the sombreros won by Smith and Keithley.
The activity was easier for the students who are further along in their study, said senior Taylor Milstead, of Pittsburg (Kan.) High School.
“I’ve had 2 1/2 years of French,” Milstead said. “Once I started remembering things, it was a lot easier.”
Students were asked questions such as their name, what they are studying, how the weather was and what kind of day they were having.
“I spoke a lot of Franglish,” joked Jordan Patterson, a sophomore at Pittsburg High School. “I’m in Spanish 2, but I tried sitting in a French conversation station.”
Allie McNiel, a junior at Clever High School, was stumped when she was asked a question about the tallest mountains.
“I had to answer that in English,” she said. “Other than that, I did pretty well.”
Erin Riggs, an MSSU freshman from Chanute, Kan., was a questioner in one of the French conversation stations. She said she was learning just as much as the high-school students.
“Some of the lower levels need a little help,” said Riggs, who is majoring in international studies and French. “That also tests me. I want to help them learn as much French as possible.”
Kunshek, the Girard teacher, said the stations are one of the reasons she brings students to the event every year. The exposure to new people speaking the language is a great educational tool, she said.
“My students know me, and if they have a problem saying something, they know I’ll help them out,” Kunshek said. “Here, they are talking to someone they don’t know. That adds a little pressure, which helps them step up and do their best.”
The competitive events gave students a chance to immerse themselves in the language of their choice.
Serena Bannasch, a senior at Joplin High School, worked with five of her classmates to write and translate a skit, the story of a girl who eats a magical piece of candy that makes her voice loud.
The group practiced the skit once a day for three weeks, built backgrounds and found costumes. The other students in the group were Lindsey Hamm, Vanessa Albrecht, Beenish Ahmed, Kristen Carter and Natasha Latysheva.
Performing in a foreign language came more easily than she expected, Bannasch said.
“It wasn’t that strange working with the language,” she said. “It wasn’t about knowing what the words mean. It was about pretending we knew what they meant.”
James Middleton, a sophomore at Bolivar High School, competed in the poetry event, reciting a Spanish poem.
“It went pretty smoothly, I think,” said Middleton, who is studying his second year of Spanish. “I’m looking forward to doing even more next year.”
In its 34th year, the event has become a regular field trip for many area schools. Students from as far away as Hollister and Waynesville in Missouri, and Chanute in Kansas participated.
“Some of the schools study for this all year,” said Parker, the resource center director. “Teachers can use this kind of thing to reinforce lessons, and it motivates students to do better in their class.”
Suzy Thomas, a Spanish teacher at Pierce City, has brought students to the event for the past six years.
“The kids can see how many others are studying foreign languages,” she said. “They see themselves as part of something bigger. I like the quality of interaction they get.”
130 MSSU students
More than 130 MSSU students and 12 faculty members assisted with the day’s activities. Events focused on French, German and Spanish because those are the languages commonly taught in high schools.
By Joe Hadsall
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