The Language of Distance Learning

Danny Stock
“Learning a new language,” wrote High School French teacher Veronique Mattei, “is challenging and requires hard work, daily practice, and time. With dedication, discipline, and a strong commitment and passion for the language and its culture, students open their mind to new horizons and therefore can aspire to become true citizens of the world.”

Across the school, students of French, Spanish, Chinese, and Latin continue that dedication through the GDS distance learning program. The highlights below are representative of the various High School programs, but certainly not comprehensive of all the teaching and learning through the world language department.


Distance Learning highlights in:

Related Hopper Effect Blog Post — In Search of the Spark: A Language Learning Blob on Motivating and inspiring language learning at the early levels.


Once again, students enrolled in the Francophone Language & Culture course, the highest level of French offered at GDS, took the ACTFL OPIc (Oral Proficiency Interview) in April. This exam assesses how well a person speaks a language through a series of questions of increasing difficulty. The popularity and the reputation of this test is such that it is used by international organizations and government agencies to determine the linguistic capabilities of their personnel.

This year, four GDS students received scores at the advanced level, indicating that they can participate spontaneously, with relative linguistic ease and confidence, in complex conversations on a variety of topics such as communication, education, environment, and social justice.

When asked to reflect upon their time in the French program, those students wrote:

“I am leaving the French program with a higher understanding of the language and a greater exposure to the francophone world.” Camilla Salwen ’21

“I'm leaving the French program with a year's worth of irreplaceable memories and a greater ability to develop ideas in French.” Arthur Delot-Vilain ’21

“I’m leaving the French program after taking French for 13 years, with a newfound appreciation for the language and especially the international francophone culture, and with plans to continue studying French in college.” Ethan Litmans ’20

“I am leaving the French program with greater creativity with my use of language and the ability to better connect with people.” Natasha Zimmerman ’20

"As I leave the GDS French program, I take with me a highly elevated understanding and capability of the spoken and written language. Through my ten years learning French here, I also have a real sense of pride at the progress I've made and the confidence in my communication skills that I now possess." Mimi Koening ’20

Thanks to Veronique for providing this update.



Spanish Foundations is working on a unit focused on describing their preferred hobbies/pastimes, what they are able/unable to do right now due to COVID-19, and how they can find balance during this time. They have investigated what people around the world are doing during these weeks; there are so many creative and inspiring things that people are doing...even among our very own GDS students!

Spanish Integrations is working on a unit combining foods and holiday/celebrations. They've been looking at products (mainly dishes) and practices (food production and foods served) during different holidays/celebrations in the Spanish-speaking world. Students are beginning to discuss how these products and practices inform our understanding of a culture's perspectives (i.e., what they value). The Integrations students are narrating a celebration they've had or a dish they've made (perhaps for a celebration) within the past 6 months. Some students are really stretching themselves here, practicing speaking spontaneously without a script to communicate their ideas albeit imperfectly. Spontaneous speech is always the most difficult to develop, and takes a very long time, so they all—even those who prepare a script for themselves—deserve some kudos. Finally, Integrations students listened to a song and video performance by Mexican folkloric singer Lila Downs, called La Cumbia del mole, and corrected mistakes that High School Spanish teacher Trish had intentionally made in the song lyrics based on what they heard. The Spanish program has also welcomed virtual guests. Several parents (and a GDS teacher) generously offered to be guest speakers to share with students their experiences with military Juntas in South America when they were living in their countries of birth. The conversations have connected to the classes’ study of dictatorships in Latin America, the Dirty War, Operation Condor, etc. Visitors discussed the military junta in Peru, dictatorship in Brazil, and the military fascist regime in Argentina.

Thanks to Trish and Maribel for providing these updates.


Digital tools are integrated with discussions, presentations, and storytelling projects in Chinese courses. In addition to more traditional methods of class discussions, students engage with online discussion forums and create final digital storytelling projects: websites in Chinese containing their work from the year. The goal of this digitalization course development is to promote engagement of students in a non-traditional format and increase efficiency of Chinese language learning in and out of class, online and offline, to the greatest extent possible. By offering these digital platforms, the instructor can reach students outside the classroom walls, which has proven invaluable during distance learning. Students’ final projects are published in Grasshopper Chinese Journal at GDS. In 2019 and 2020 respectively, three and four students' final projects were also published in this top national journal for Chinese language learners in North America alongside students from Williams College, Brown University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, Duke University, etc. The JUHE Supplement 2020 has been published! Thanks to Min Wang for sending these updates.



Right before we left GDS in March, three Latin classes took the National Latin Exam. High School Latin teacher Nicola McCutcheon didn’t have any previous experience with students sitting for the exam, but she was pleased with the results: 11 out of 25 students received awards for scoring above the national average.

Congratulations to:

  • Gold Summa Cum Laude - Arthur Delot-Vilain ’21
  • Silver Maxima Cum Laude - Nino Imbroscio ’21, Megna Ratnapuri ’21, Milo Borek ’23
  • Magna Cum Laude - Josh Marchand ’20, Oakley Winters ’22, Simrin Reed ’22
  • Cum Laude - Halle McLean ’20, Matt Mason ’21, Nikhil Klass ’21, Leo Cooper ‘22

“I am so proud of them and all their hard work this year, and they are definitely deserving of some recognition and hype from the GDS community in this strange and isolated time!” Nicola said.

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