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.


Chinese I

This course is an introduction to standard Chinese (Mandarin). Students learn the Pinyin Romanization system for speaking and how to write Chinese characters, both simplified and traditional versions. This course is based on the 5 C goal areas of the ACTFL guidelines: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. We incorporate listening, speaking, writing, and reading into the teaching materials and activities. Students explore Chinese culture through history, literature, customs, inventions, and holidays.

Chinese II

This course builds on the foundation of skills formed in Chinese I. Students increase their use of Chinese by studying themes that use a more extensive vocabulary and a variety of sentence and grammar structures. These themes focus on building language skills necessary for daily life, such as being able to introduce oneself and one’s family, express one’s feelings, and give advice. An essential part of this course is using language to discuss daily routines and favorite weekend activities, as well as directions, location, and transportation. Students are encouraged to use listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in practical and authentic ways.

Chinese III

This course reviews many previous themes and, at the same time, expands students' knowledge of Chinese culture and deepens their language skills. Themes include leisure activities, education, food, festivals, health, and environmental issues. Through many activities and exercises, students increase their abilities in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students are encouraged to communicate and interact with our international students who are native Chinese speakers.

Chinese IV

This course continues to build on the foundation of skills gained in the first three years of Chinese study. Students expand their knowledge of Chinese culture and continue to improve their language skills through listening, speaking, reading, writing, and expressing opinions. Themes include current events, elections, environment issues, and career aspirations. Students also study Chinese literature, poetry, and biographies, and are encouraged to interact with international students who know Chinese. A minimum enrollment of four students is required for this course to be offered.

English (as a Second Language)

Beginning Grammar/Writing – ELL

This class helps students begin to develop strong academic writing and grammar skills. They learn about sentence structure, grammar, mechanics, and the writing process. They are introduced to standard organizational patterns of the paragraph and the basic concepts of essay writing. Throughout the year, students practice using the rules of English grammar in both speaking and writing activities, which include playing grammar games, working on individual and group projects, and giving presentations to the class.

Intermediate Grammar/Writing – ELL

This class presents a more in-depth study of English grammar and helps students use different grammatical structures to express ideas through paragraphs and essays. Students learn and practice standard academic patterns of essay organization and work to develop a mature writing style. Several grammar-based projects, writing assignments, and presentations are required.

English Composition & Advanced Grammar – ELL

This advanced course in the English language is designed to help international students improve their language skills in all areas: grammar, listening, reading, writing, and speaking. In this class, students use a variety of academic and technical discourse in English to work on activities such as reading comprehension, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Vocabulary development using the Academic Word List (AWL) and learning strategies for taking the Internet-based TOEFL test (iBT) are introduced and practiced throughout the year.

Advanced English Composition

The purpose of this course is to prepare students to be successful writers in college and beyond. Students will gain practice with all steps of the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, and editing. Written work will include the personal essay, the analytic essay, persuasive writing, and creative writing. Readings will consist of a variety of genres: fiction, creative non-fiction, editorials, and articles. Through reading, writing, peer-editing, and revision, students will develop fluency in both oral and written expression. This course is required for international students; it meets college admissions and entrance requirements in English.


French I

This course is designed for beginners, and it's entirely taught in French. This course aims to develop the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing to a basic level of proficiency so that the students can communicate ideas in French and understand some cultural aspects of the French-speaking world. In French I, the focus is on learning the tools to exchange basic information with others. Students learn how to talk about themselves, their immediate surroundings (family, friends, school, free-time activities, and others) and how to get by in a French-speaking country. We begin the year by learning to describe who we are (learning numbers to share age and phone numbers, expressions for giving, and asking personal information such as address, or languages spoken). We also learn to describe how life at school looks like: we discuss our schedule, classes, and likes and dislikes. We compare school life in the US to school life in France and connect with our sister school in Angers. Later, students learn to describe their families and friends and to discuss family structures. Finally, our focus shifts to our free time, and students learn to describe their daily routines and recreational activities, as well as wishes and plans. Building oral and written proficiency, learning about grammar, developing metalinguistic awareness, understanding authentic documents (films, songs, short texts), and cultural topics are all part of the curriculum.

French II

This course is taught entirely in French and starts with a review and expansion of the material covered in French I. We review the major verb groups; we develop grammar and vocabulary skills through units on our environment and climate change (from the macrocosm to microcosm) by speaking about events that occurred in the past. Students learn about French culture and society as well as the broader francophone world. We include the reading of short texts (often complementing topics studied in Humanities) and the reading and memorization of poems. We also include the viewing (followed by discussions and written assignments) of French-language films. We strongly emphasize the development of listening and speaking skills. The year's primary goals are to develop a solid foundation for the continuous study of French and encourage oral and written expression.

French III

This course is entirely taught in French. We review and extend the learning of the past tenses. We learn the future, the conditional, and we study pronouns. Students expand their oral skills through
class discussions and group presentations. Films and projects are directly linked to grammar and the Humanities 11 curriculum. Some class projects include recording the life-story of a family relative and the reading and discussing of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s book Le racisme expliqué à ma fille. The main goal at the end of French III is for students to sustain a conversation, express their opinion, and challenge others' opinion.

French IV

At this advanced level, we approach the language mainly as art. We study literary texts (several short stories and one larger piece). We do some translation, discuss current events, and engage in conversation with students from our partner school in Angers France. We review grammar according to the needs of the students. We study the relative prepositions and the subjunctive to develop their mode of expression. The themes, books, and films are chosen according to the class’s interests and language level. The last trimester is often devoted to personal and collective projects and presentations, such as:

  • The creation of an online magazine
  • A book of poems
  • A short soap opera
  • A one-act theater play


Spanish I

This course is designed for students with little or no background in Spanish. Spanish is the primary language of instruction. The course focuses on teaching the 5 C goal areas of the ACTFL guidelines: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Students engage in a variety of listening, reading, writing, and speaking activities. The class teaches basic skills and communication through the following topics: introductions and simple conversation, numbers, and the alphabet, the weather, hobbies and activities, sharing personal information, school classes and activities, diversity of people and language in Latin America, future plans, and present tense verb conjugations.

Spanish II

The 10th-grade Spanish class is a continuation of the 9th-grade Spanish curriculum. The classes are taught primarily in the target language. Students continue to deepen their Spanish language proficiency. Each lesson targets the four essential skill areas of speaking, listening, reading, and writing Throughout each trimester, students engage in themed units of study and benefit from the opportunity to use the language in creative and meaningful ways. By the end of the 10th-grade year of study, students are able to express themselves on basic topics in the past, present, and future tenses. Students experience cultures from a variety of Spanish-speaking countries through the use of authentic materials. Ultimately, students gain an understanding of the true practicality of learning a world language.

Spanish III (Grade 9)

This class is offered to rising 9th graders from our Middle School Spanish program and incoming ninth graders with at least two middle school years of previous Spanish language study and demonstrates readiness. In this class, we focus on communication and the consolidation of the skills and knowledge acquired at the beginner and intermediate levels. Connections between cultures and communities are examined more in-depth, with increased emphasis on critical thinking by applying increasingly sophisticated grammar structures and vocabulary. Throughout the year, we will discuss key themes relevant for today’s students, such as technology and its challenges, global challenges, multiculturalism, diversity, equity & inclusion, environmental awareness, and local community engagement.

Spanish III (Grades 10-11)

This class is entirely taught in Spanish. This course aims to continue developing the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing that students have been acquiring since they began learning Spanish. We continue working on increasing language proficiency so that students can communicate ideas and understand some cultural aspects of the Spanish-speaking world in more depth and at a higher proficiency level. Building oral and written proficiency, learning about grammar, developing metalinguistic awareness, understanding authentic documents and cultural topics are all part of the curriculum. We start the year with engaging oral and written activities to get to know each other and review what students have learned. Our main study units include topics such as the environment, the city, and living a healthy lifestyle. Students learn to express their opinion, give directions, and how to talk about their health. Because no foreign language study goes without studying the target culture, we also listen to music, watch films and read authentic journalistic or literary texts from the Spanish- speaking world.

Spanish IV

This course is a continuation of the three-year Spanish language requirement in the Upper School, serving primarily students from 9th grade Spanish III or incoming 10th graders who can demonstrate an appropriate Spanish proficiency level. Vocabulary and language functions are embedded in the themes covered throughout the year. We focus on what the students can do with the language, using authentic documents and real-life tasks. Examples of themes and essential questions in Spanish IV are centered around healthy living, tourist or traveler, the environment, city life, the arts, and current events.

Spanish V

This course completes the three-year Upper School language requirement for students who began Spanish in Middle School, and it is taught entirely in Spanish. We continue examining the connections between cultures and communities (macro and micro) more in-depth, emphasizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills by applying increasingly sophisticated grammar structures and vocabulary. Throughout the year, we will discuss key themes relevant for today’s students, such as technology and its challenges, global challenges, multiculturalism, diversity, equity & inclusion, environmental awareness, and local community engagement.

Spanish VI*

In this course, students study university-level material and are challenged to take more control of their learning to bring communication skills to a higher level. We review essential grammatical structures throughout the year while exploring art, literature, and culture in Latin America and Spain. Students also have the opportunity to work and improve their writing, listening, and speaking skills. Among the authors and painters that we study during the course are Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Oswaldo Guayasamín, Ana María Matute, Clarice Lispector, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and Julio Cortázar. Students write analytical essay responses in Spanish.

*The curriculum for this course will be evaluated in the next academic year and may change.