Education TED-Ed

Spanish class isn’t enough: A TED-Ed Club presentation advocates for immersive language instruction

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High school senior Yash Khatavkar takes issue with the fact that, as he was learning Spanish, his elementary school only offered one hour of Spanish instruction per week. Even as he got older, he felt like Spanish classes in school just weren’t enough to move him past the point of having to translate between English and Spanish in his head.

“I have trouble with it. I can’t do the conjugations that I need to do,” he says in his TED-Ed Club presentation. “I think the way we teach it is part of the problem.”

TED-Ed Clubs is a program that introduces students to the basics of presentation literacy and walks them through the steps of giving a TED-like talk. When Khatavkar signed up for the TED-Ed Club at Fridley High School, he knew he wanted to advocate for earlier and better language instruction, and to explore the positive benefits of multilingualism. Below, watch his presentation. And then, a short Q&A.

How did you decide on this subject for your TED-Ed Club presentation?

My presentation was about language — I focused on how language acquisition has become more important to us. The main point I wanted to make is that the way schools teach language is ineffective. I actually got the idea for my presentation from a friend. He speaks five languages and often talks about the way language is taught in other countries as being more effective than the way it is taught in the United States. My parents are also from India, where people learn to speak three languages fluently: Hindi, Marathi and English. That made me realize that the way languages are taught in the American school system is just not unacceptable.

Why is it important to learn to speak more than one language?

Knowing multiple languages is increasingly important as the world becomes more and more global. Languages like Spanish are extremely useful due to the large number of Spanish speakers in the United States, but other languages are extremely important as well. Speaking someone’s language is not only important for business and trade, but also critical for more lofty purposes like international understanding and transcending cultural boundaries. Speaking someone’s native language creates an instant cultural connection, and is absolutely essential for functioning in a more international world.

Khatavkar’s fellow TED-Ed Club Members brainstorm about what makes a good idea.

How did you learn to start speaking Spanish?

I actually had toys growing up that taught me some basic Spanish, including a ball that taught me to count to ten in both English and Spanish. Then, in elementary school, I was taught some Spanish in school. But there was only an hour per week, which was far from sufficient. I didn’t learn very much. In middle school all the way through high school, I took Spanish classes that taught me much more. These classes helped me read and write in Spanish well, but I never got the immersion that helped my bilingual classmates speak fluently.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on your presentation?

I was most interested by the different ways people learned languages, both in other countries and even within the United States. These are things that I hadn’t been exposed to. It really stressed the idea that language is not something that can be learned in a classroom alone. It truly made me believe that acquiring a new language requires more than just studying it from books.

Interested in TED-Ed Clubs? Find out more on the TED-Ed Blog: