Modern Languages

Upper School language offerings are an integral part of the international perspective at The Northwest School. Classes are conducted largely in the language being taught. Each language class involves extensive study of a culture and opportunities to study abroad. Upper School students fulfill a three-year language requirement, with the option to continue into a fourth year of study. Students receiving ESL support take English rather than Chinese, French, or Spanish; the curriculum overview for International and ESL students may be found here.

9th Grade


Students are placed in the appropriate language course according to their proficiencies speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The assessment is made by the Modern Language department using teacher recommendations, records of past performance (e.g., a portfolio, grades, etc.), and, when necessary, a placement exam.

    • Chinese I: Introductory to Chinese language and culture. Learn both pinyin for speaking and character writing.
    • Chinese II: Increases reading, writing and speaking skills.
    • Spanish I: Develops basic proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Includes cultural study of Latino communities in US, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
    • Spanish II: Increases speaking, reading and writing proficiency and includes a cultural study of Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador. Spanish III: Accommodates students with two years Spanish experience and adds more complex grammar.
    • Spanish III: Parallels with Humanities curriculum with reading, research, writing, and speaking skills being honed, in preparation for 12th grade Spanish.
    • Spanish IV: Parallels with 10th grade Humanities curriculum; essays in Spanish on present-day Latin America.
    • French I: Emphasizes listening skills and vocabulary.
    • French II: Emphasizes reading, speaking and writing skills. Among other activities, students will edit a cookbook, read excerpts from Voltaire's Candide (to coincide with the 10th grade study of the Enlightenment in Humanities), and do research and a presentation on the history and culture of the Caribbean.
    • Beginning Grammar/Writing - ESL: Helps students develop strong academic English writing and grammar skills.

      10th Grade


      Students are placed in the appropriate language course according to their proficiencies speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The assessment is made by the Modern Language department using teacher recommendations, records of past performance (e.g., a portfolio, grades, etc.), and, when necessary, a placement exam.

      • Chinese I: Introductory to Chinese language and culture. Learn both pinyin for speaking and character writing.
      • Chinese II: Increase and develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, and typing skills through meaningful interactive activities. Collaborative projects with ESL students.
      • Chinese III: Add thematic units to expand interpretive, interpersonal and representational skills. Build on global perspective and connections to humanity and other subjects.
      • French I: Emphasizes listening skills and vocabulary.
      • French II: Emphasizes reading, speaking and writing skills by editing a cookbook, reading of excerpts from Voltaire's Candide in French to integrate with 10th grade Humanities, and doing research and a presentation on the history and culture of the Caribbean.
      • French III: Films and projects link to Humanities curriculum, including World War II and the Holocaust. Writing, reading and speaking skills continue to improve through group research projects and presentations.
      • Spanish I: Develops basic proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Includes cultural study of Latino communities in US, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
      • Spanish II: Increases speaking, reading and writing proficiency and includes a cultural study of Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador.
      • Spanish III: Parallels with Humanities curriculum with reading, research, writing, and speaking skills being honed, in preparation for 12th grade Spanish.
      • Spanish IV: Parallels with 10th grade Humanities curriculum; essays in Spanish on present-day Latin America.
      • Intermediate Grammar/Writing - ESL: Presents a more in-depth study of English grammar and helps students use different grammatical structures through essays and writing projects.

      11th Grade

      Students are placed in the appropriate language course according to their proficiencies speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The assessment is made by the Modern Language department using teacher recommendations, records of past performance (e.g., a portfolio, grades, etc.), and, when necessary, a placement exam.

      • Chinese II: Increase and develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, and typing skills through meaningful interactive activities. Collaborative projects with ESL students.
      • Chinese III: Add thematic units to expand interpretive, interpersonal and representational skills. Build on global perspective and connections to humanity and other subjects.
      • Chinese IV: Expand conversational, reading, and writing skills to express ideas and opinions. Examine and explore familiar and unfamiliar topics like current events, election and literature.
      • French II: Emphasizes reading, speaking and writing skills by editing a cookbook, reading of excerpts from Voltaire's Candide in French to integrate with 10th grade Humanities, and doing research and a presentation on the history and culture of the Caribbean.
      • French III: Films and projects link to Humanities curriculum, including World War II and the Holocaust. Writing, reading and speaking skills continue to improve through group research projects and presentations.
      • French IV: Study of literary texts, translations, debates about current events, and a daily journal. Writing skills are employed to prepare a presidential campaign, paralleling election campaign work of students in Humanities and by creating an online writing project.
      • Spanish II: Increases speaking, reading and writing proficiency and includes a cultural study of Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Ecuador.
      • Spanish III: Parallels with Humanities curriculum with reading, research, writing, and speaking skills being honed, in preparation for 12th grade Spanish.
      • Spanish IV: Parallels with 10th grade Humanities curriculum; essays in Spanish on present-day Latin America.
      • Spanish V: Studies historical and cultural information in Spanish, including units on the Spanish Civil War, social justice issues in El Salvador, and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.
      • English Composition & Advanced Grammar - ESL: Advanced course in English language designed to help international students improve skills in all areas, including grammar, listening, reading, writing and speaking.

      12th Grade

      • Chinese III: Add thematic units to expand interpretive, interpersonal and representational skills. Build on global perspective and connections to humanity and other subjects.
      • Chinese IV: Expand conversational, reading, and writing skills to express ideas and opinions. Examine and explore familiar and unfamiliar topics like current events, election and literature.
      • French III: Films and projects link to Humanities curriculum, including World War II and the Holocaust. Writing, reading and speaking skills continue to improve through group research projects and presentations.
      • French IV: Study of literary texts, translations, debates about current events, and a daily journal. Writing skills are employed to prepare a presidential campaign, paralleling election campaign work of students in Humanities and by creating an online writing project.
      • Spanish III: Parallels with Humanities curriculum with reading, research, writing, and speaking skills being honed, in preparation for 12th grade Spanish.
      • Spanish IV: Parallels with 10th grade Humanities curriculum; essays in Spanish on present-day Latin America.
      • Spanish V: Studies historical and cultural information in Spanish, including units on the Spanish Civil War, social justice issues in El Salvador, and the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.
      • Advanced Spanish: Includes the writing of self-portraits in several literary styles, study of 19th century Latin American artists, Latin American ecology, and the art of translation.
      • Advanced English Composition: Prepares students to be successful writers in college and beyond with a focus on the process of writing, audience, purpose, and developing a personal voice and perspective in writing.