English teacher Mela Frye is known among the KO community as a teacher with a great passion for words. Not only does Mrs. Frye possess a profound passion for the English language, but she has also studied languages such as Italian and German to better understand and appreciate poetry and literature.
In grade school, Mrs. Frye was required to study a foreign language. She was presented with three options: German, French, and Spanish. “I asked my older brother, who at the time I worshiped. He was really into languages and he told me to take German because it was the hardest language,” she said. Mrs. Frye took German through middle and high school, ending with AP in 11th grade.
In college, even she started Italian, complemented by a study abroad trip to Florence, Italy, she still found the time to continue with German. “German is a very precise language, you can say anything you want with it.” Mrs. Frye explained. “Built into the language is this amazing ability to make new words from smaller words,” a process known as compounding. “The fact that you can say anything, there is a beauty to that. The German language feels so alive because it will keep adapting with new ideas and new creations, new feelings,” she said. Mrs. Frye, as somebody who loves poetry, says it is precisely for this reason that makes German such a poetic language. “I was never proficient enough to write a worthwhile poem [in German], but I did read a lot of German poetry in college,” Mrs. Frye remarked.
Mrs. Frye notes that, nowadays, most students make the decision on which language to study based upon how valuable they think they are in the outside world. “There’s this notion that a language must have some sort of outside usefulness in order to be worthwhile,” Mrs. Frye said. “I think that there is an element to learning a language that is worthwhile in and of itself. You should study language because it is beautiful, not necessarily because it has the most number of speakers.”
Mrs. Frye said this idea of learning languages has caused a steady decline of German being taught in middle and high schools. “Back when I was in school, German was a much more popular language for students to take. Recently, the high school I went to closed their own German program because not enough students were interested in taking it,” she explained. Mrs. Frye points to the rise of languages like Chinese and Arabic as examples of students taking languages due to their perceived usefulness in the job market.
Mrs. Frye also took Latin through the entirety of her high school career. “I think Latin affected me more than any other language,” Mrs. Frye said. “We would read poetry, speeches, and stories, and I just loved translating Latin poetry into English. I loved the challenge of maintaining both the accuracy of the words, but also maintaining the poetry of the words when its translated into English.”
Overall, Mrs. Frye said she hopes that students start to better appreciate languages for their own sake, not because of their external usefulness. “Dead and uncommon languages are worth learning,” Mrs. Frye said, “even if they aren’t going to get you a job.”