Monthly Archives: May 2010

Foreign Language Advantages

The following was written by Stephanie Miele at  Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland.  I think it’s important to share her views with you:

Thursday, May 13, 2010  (from Lance, the school’s newspaper)

“In our profession we call a person who can speak 3 languages trilingual, we call someone who speaks two languages bilingual, and we call someone who only speaks one language American,” FCPS Curriculum Specialist, Ms. Susan Murphy said.

Everybody knows that learning foreign languages is extremely beneficial. When I asked Spanish teacher and World Languages Department chair, Mrs. Doughty, for some of the advantages she asked me if I had two hours.

What many people do not know is that learning a different language actually helps them to understand their own language better. In addition, it allows students to communicate with foreign people and comprehend their culture. Furthermore, studies show that a foreign language gives students higher verbal scores on the SAT. So it is obvious that being bilingual is important, but is it helpful to learn these languages in high school?

Frederick County Public Schools require a minimum of two credits in one foreign language but this is not enough. After passing only two courses of a language, students do not have education in order to actually use it. Mrs. Doughty agrees, saying that stopping after Spanish 2 does not allow students to manage any of the communication skills. So why only have students learn a tiny portion of a different culture instead of teaching them everything?

After taking up to Spanish three, I can barely comprehend or write any of that language. I was too busy focusing on studying for the tests each week, rather than taking the time to understand what I was learning. I am ashamed that all of my hard work and did not pay off, considering I cannot communicate in Spanish.

However, I do take responsibility for not be willing to actually use what I learned. Rather than reading, listening, or speaking the new language I only practiced it when I was forced to in class.

Just signing up for the class is not enough for students. They cannot persuade themselves to believe that they will become bilingual simply by taking the required course. Rather, they must take action to improve their skills and gain more knowledge.

“If students do not use what they learn, they will lose it. It is important to do anything in that language to make sure it is not forgotten. Reading is the most beneficial, so students can subscribe to newspapers or magazines. Watching TV and listening to the radio in Spanish is helpful too,” Mrs. Doughty said.

Learning foreign languages is crucial and would be easier if schools start teaching their students at a young age. We learned English when we were children and now we speak it without much thought. Therefore, it dominates over new languages that we are just beginning to use.

“We live in a global society; it is not enough for students to learn only two credits of a language because students will forget the language. Even a third credit is not enough for fluency. I certainly hope that foreign languages will soon be a part of the elementary school curriculum. Studying several languages throughout schooling will make it easier for students to understand and accept the different cultures,” Ms. Murphy said.

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Chinese as the next world language

China is trying to ensure that Chinese truly becomes the next world language by sending instructors from China to teach Chinese in US schools.  The state of Indiana has become one of the hot spots for this program as the following article in The Herald Bulletin (May 27, 2010) by Maureen Hayden indicates:

With the arrival in Indiana this week of the largest delegation of Chinese automotive executives ever to visit the U.S., attention has been focused on the potential for Chinese investment in the state’s auto-parts industry.

But as a growing number of school teachers already know, China has been spending money in Indiana for the last four years, investing in a program to make Chinese the next world language.

In Hoosier schools large and small, Mandarin Chinese is being taught by Chinese school teachers sent here on a multi-year program designed to make their native tongue the foreign language of choice.

The numbers are still small, but an estimated 45 public and private schools in Indiana now offer Chinese language instruction as a credited course. The schools range from the prestigious private International School of Indiana in Indianapolis — which begins Chinese language instruction in kindergarten — to Jennings County High School in rural southeastern Indiana.

“There’s been a heightened interest and awareness of the need for global language programs that start as early as possible,” said Caterina Blitzer, vice president for development at the International School of Indiana and the former director of international education at the Indiana Department of Education.

That interest is on a national level as well. According to the College Board, administrators of the college admissions test, the number of high school students taking the Advanced Placement test in Chinese has grown so quickly that it has become the third-most tested A.P. language, behind French and Spanish.

Many of the Chinese-language teachers in Indiana schools are Chinese educators who have arrived here courtesy of a joint program between the College Board and Hanban, a government-funded organization affiliated with the Chinese Education Ministry.

Since 2006, the Chinese government has subsidized more than 325 “guest teachers” to work in U.S. schools to help launch Chinese language programs. The teachers can stay and teach for three years, and then can re-apply to stay for another three years.

But it’s not just the Chinese government investing in the spread of the language. The U.S. State Department also funds a smaller program, called Teachers of Critical Languages, that recruits teachers from China and the Middle East to spend a year in American schools teaching Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. The program grew out of a U.S. Defense Department initiative during the Bush administration that found there was a shortage of American students who were fluent in languages deemed of “national security” interest.

An increasing source of Chinese language teachers in Indiana are Chinese immigrants or Chinese-Americans who are fluent in the language, but have pursued other careers. They’re now being recruited into education, said Adriana Melnyk-Brandt, the director of professional development at IUPUI’s School of Education. IUPUI is one of three universities in Indiana that certifies teachers of Chinese. Those universities are assisted by the Confucius Institute, also funded by the Chinese government, to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture in the U.S.

The combined effort has done more than just introduce the Chinese language to Hoosier schoolchildren, said Melnyk-Brandt. “Students of a foreign language see a world beyond their backyard,” she said. “And many times they see the world in their own backyard in a different way.”

Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at

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More on the Chopping Block

I just saw that California State University at Fullerton is eliminating its bachelors and masters degrees in German as well as the masters degree in French!!  Its president said that for now the bachelors degree program in French as well as classes to earn a minor in Portuguese, German or French are safe.  According to the article, language professors told the university that if they cut the language majors, it would disrupt the business school  programs that train students to conduct business in European countries.  Guess the only thing that the university cares about is saving money.  Aren’t universities supposed to be institutions of higher learning?!

Also, another school district (Cape Henlopen in Delaware) is planning to cut its Chinese language program because it lacks the money to pay for it.  The link to that article is:

Another bad day for languages! UGH!

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More Foreign Language Cuts at a University

Louisiana State University is proposing to cut some of its foreign language programs as this article from USA Today (May 25, 2010) reveals:

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU is proposing to eliminate several academic degree programs and institutes ranging from the School of Library and Information Sciences to bachelor’s degrees in German and Latin.

The “Phase I” plan calls for closing offices like the Louisiana Population Data Center and architecture’s Office of Community Preservation.

Also, state funding would be axed for the United States Civil War Center, the Center for French and Francophone Studies, the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History and more.

The proposals of 20 such closures or cuts to save $3 million a year come at a time when public colleges have been cut about $290 million with more budgetary axing is anticipated in the summer 2011.

“This is the brutal and unfortunate outcome of budget cuts at an institution committed to excellence,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said Monday.

Ensuring that areas of strength remain so means making tough decisions elsewhere, he said.

Martin said the timeline for making the cuts is not final.

Beth Paskoff, dean of the LSU School of Library and Information Science, is among those saying she plans to fight the plans, specifically the phased-out elimination of the master’s degree in library and information sciences over two or three years. One of LSU’s more popular master’s programs, it graduates close to 70 students a year and is the only such program in the state, she said.

The degree is needed to be a library director and is considered entry-level for library leadership, she said.

Such program eliminations would need to be approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Louisiana Board of Regents.

“Access to information is so important for every citizen,” Paskoff said. “Closing us would hurt the people of Louisiana. I sympathize with the university &hellip but I know this is a bad cut.”

Emily Batinski, chairwoman of the LSU foreign languages and literatures department, said LSU also will suffer by cutting German, Latin and other foreign language offerings.

The degree programs may graduate fewer than 10 students a year, Batinski said. But there is value in the class offerings to students of other academic majors, she said.

Joachim Singelmann, Louisiana Population Data Center director, said his center receives no state funds and helps faculty in other departments acquire federal grants.

“It looks like streamlining, but it hurts the institution,” Singelmann said.


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The John Stanford International School and Foreign Languages

It’s nice to learn about a success story like the John Stanford International School in Seattle, Washington. At that school students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in either Spanish or Japanese.  Half of the school day the students study math and science in either language while during the other half they learn social studies and language arts in English.   The program seems to be quite successful because the students not only are having fun learning another language, they are also getting higher test scores. I attend a similar kind of school and love it.  Here’s the article from (May 16, 2010):

SEATTLE — Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how Seattle students are learning foreign languages so they can compete in a global economy.

The John Stanford International School immerses every student in either Spanish or Japanese.

Each student chooses a language and spends half the day studying math and science in that language. They spend the other half of the day learning social studies and language arts in English.

School administrators faced a learning curve in deciding which subjects to teach in a second language, Principal Karen Kodema said.

“Of course, we thought social studies at first, because that’s where all the meat is; you talk about cultures and things,” she said “Wrong. That’s very abstract. So the idea is we took math and science, because that’s where you have a lot of the hands-on (activities).”

Visiting educators have marveled at the school’s ability to teach second-language skills while constantly improving students’ test scores. The school has won national honors, and the program has been so successful that Seattle has created five other international schools, including one that teaches Mandarin Chinese.

Students, though, were more nonchalant about their achievements.

“If I go to Japan (and) I want to order something to eat, I just say it in Japanese. It’s easy,” a student named P.J. said.

Those language skills will give a leg up to students who are going to have to compete in a global economy, Kodema said.

“Our children from other countries are learning English. Our children who are English speakers are learning Japanese and Spanish. So we really level the playing field,” she said.

International School students also benefit from exposure to children from other cultures. Immigrants comprise about a quarter of the student population.

“Everyone understands what it takes to learn a language. And everyone then begins to appreciate each other,” Kodema said.

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A Champion for Foreign Languages

At least there are a few people who, like me, want to see foreign languages saved in the schools. Professor Robert D. Peckham (a professor of French in Tennessee), otherwise known by his nickname — Tennessee Bob — has been trying to reverse the foreign language slide in schools and universities.  The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article, written by Mary Helen Miller, about his save our foreign languages campaign.

“Foreign Language Programs, Facing Cuts, Find a Champion in ‘Tennessee Bob” (May 23, 2010)

Robert D. Peckham, a professor of French, had more to deal with this spring than his usual end-of-semester duties. The countryside in western Tennessee was bright green and dotted with the yellow of wild mustard blooms, but Mr. Peckham was less than cheerful. His department at the University of Tennessee at Martin was restructuring. The oldest of his four kids had just moved back home, so the family was adjusting. Most of all, Mr. Peckham was anxious that a university more than 400 miles away was thinking about cutting its programs in Spanish and French.

Albany State University, in Georgia, included the elimination of the two languages in a proposal to save $3.6-million that it submitted to the Board of Regents in February. Mr. Peckham, a national advocate for foreign-language programs known among his colleagues as “Tennessee Bob,” felt he had to act.

Albany State’s dean of arts and humanities, Leroy E. Bynum Jr., says that the programs were included on the list because they are “vulnerable,” but that the university has no plans to actually discontinue them.

Still, Mr. Peckham says, program eliminations always start as “worst-case scenarios.” So he is crafting arguments showing how language skills are a key to students’ success—arguments that faculty members at Albany State can use.

“Administrations see getting rid of a foreign-language program as a politically low-cost thing to do,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is say, You can’t get away with that.”

This is not an easy time for foreign-language departments. Programs at California State University at Fullerton and the University of Maine at Orono, to name two, were recently shrunk, and decisions about the fate of some language programs at the University of Nevada at Reno and University of Tennessee at Knoxville are pending.

Mr. Peckham is chair of the Commission on Advocacy of the American Association of Teachers of French, but he sees all languages as his to defend. Every week he spends roughly 20 hours scouring the Web for reports of threatened language programs and giving advice to those that ask for it. He does research on institutions and their surrounding areas, and passes along material for faculty members to use to defend their programs.

His work has been “very helpful,” says Raymond J. Pelletier, chair of the department of modern languages and classics at Orono. Mr. Peckham pointed out to Mr. Pelletier that nearly half of Maine’s export revenue comes from countries whose languages are taught at the university, a fact that informed the Orono faculty’s campaign to save French and Spanish.

Languages for Leaders

When he was a student, Tennessee Bob recalls, a person had to know a foreign language to be considered well educated. The same should be true today, he believes. Learning a foreign language is crucial to becoming a strong leader, he says. Most of the schools and colleges he helps are public, and he would especially like to see good leaders come from those institutions.

That desire drove him to become vice president of the French teachers’ association, in 2003. He was “never one of those people who was gung-ho to be part of an organization,” he says, but the group seemed to be a good vehicle for advocacy work.

“I want to see people given the chance,” Mr. Peckham says. “If all we’re going to do is take folks from Harvard and Yale and put them in the best jobs, eventually we’re going to have the same problem that you have with an ecosystem that’s not varied. You’re going to lack certain types of thought.”

To faculty members at Orono, he wrote a letter suggesting that they point out that while well-to-do private colleges in Maine offer foreign-language majors, only 10 to 12 percent of their students are Mainers, “and so, while the sons and daughters of the wealthy summer residents you might see at a posh Bar Harbor cocktail party will have the advantage of an informed international point of view, those of the hard-working Maine taxpayers will have to satisfy themselves with something less.” He added some political advice to be used in discussions with the administration: “Twist this to be just a little bit embarrassing.”

Now, as the head of advocacy for his association, he maintains a section of its Web site with data on foreign direct investments in the United States, statistics on imports and exports, and other material that faculty members can use to argue for the relevance of foreign-language instruction.

He leads workshops at conferences where he teaches people how to make alliances with local politicians and the most effective ways to contact alumni. (He also advocates against language cuts at K-12 schools, advising teachers on how to present solid arguments to parent-teacher associations.)

Working as a behind-the-scenes strategist, he has been joined recently by another foreign-language scholar who tries to rally the masses directly. Glenn S. Levine, an associate professor of German at the University of California at Irvine, is president of the American Association of University Supervisors and Coordinators, which promotes foreign-language instruction. When he hears of a threatened program, he’ll post a call to arms on his organization’s e-mail list, which he estimates has a few hundred members.

“I actually completely sympathize with the plight of the university,” Mr. Levine says. “We’re saying that simply cutting language departments with the assumption that it will lead to savings … is shortsighted.” Language programs generate money through tuition, he says, and if an institution decides later that it wants the program back, it would be very expensive to start from scratch.

Mr. Levine and Mr. Peckham became aware of each other’s work through their attempts this spring to save languages at Fullerton. Mr. Levine received a message from Tennessee Bob in response to one of his e-mail posts. Mr. Peckham provided Mr. Levine with some statistics, which he forwarded to colleagues at Fullerton. Mr. Levine also persuaded dozens of people to write letters to Fullerton’s president.

Their effort was only partly successful. A major and two master’s programs were cut, although the university agreed to continue them as minors.

Losses and Victories

Inevitably, some fights are simply lost. Despite Mr. Peckham’s efforts to help Meredith College, a women’s college in North Carolina, the guillotine fell on its French program last October. He exchanged e-mails with faculty members there, asking for details of their situation and providing them with material, such as statistics about North Carolina’s exports to Francophone countries.

But because he became ill for a time last fall, he couldn’t do as much as he had hoped. “I felt very, very sad,” he says, his voice dropping.

He also recently failed to save the Latin program at Centenary College of Louisiana and the French program at Winona State University, in Minnesota. No date has been set for a decision at Albany State.

Last spring Mr. Peckham found himself fighting on the home front. The French and Spanish programs on his own campus, at Martin, were put on notice by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission because they didn’t have the minimum number of 10 majors that the state thought every program should produce each year. In testimony before a commission panel, Mr. Peckham suggested that the university would risk its top-tier ranking by U.S. News & World Report if it cut French and Spanish. He also argued that, in terms of the university’s educational goals, it would be hypocritical to eliminate those programs.

And he had backup: more than a dozen supportive letters from schoolteachers and academics around the country. “I’ve done things for people, and they returned the favor,” he says.

The commission decided to keep the programs, and the experience reaffirmed Tennessee Bob’s commitment to helping others win their fights. “It really pushed me to want to be in the action,” he says. “I could taste part of the anguish that people were having.”

But tempering the anguish is the pleasure of familiarity with another tongue and another culture. Mr. Peckham sings in a trio, Au Coeur du Vent, at French-immersion weekends at state parks and at foreign-language conferences in Tennessee. And each spring, at Martin’s humanities-and-fine-arts barbecue, in the basketball stadium, he takes the stage with his autoharp. This year one of his three daughters, who is a junior minoring in French at Martin, accompanied him on vocals.

Marjolaine, j’ai ta vie dans la mienne,” they sang, he with his eyes closed, shaking his head slowly. “Marjolaine, I have your life in mine.”

Trying to focus people’s attention on another language is never easy. Most people chatted over the melody or concentrated on their pulled pork and lemonade. A few folks, though, sat and listened, drawn in by Tennessee Bob’s French song. Perhaps, when the next foreign-language department is threatened, they might be inspired to write a letter of protest.

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The U.K. and Foreign Languages

An article in the British newspaper The Independent suggests that now British school children begin learning foreign languages in school at an earlier age.  Before they started at age 11 and studied until they were 16.  Now they begin at age 7 and learn until they’re 14.  But even though they start at an earlier age, they are stopping earlier too. So, how can anyone know a language by age 14?  The point should be that while kids need to learn a foreign language from an early age, the schools need to continue that instruction all the way through the end of high school and beyond.  Otherwise, starting early isn’t worth much.

The following article was written by Steve McCormack, “More Languages on the Menu in Schools,” from The Independent May 20, 2010:

The image many of us may have of a language teacher is someone drilling a classroom full of teenagers in the finer points of French or German grammar in a way not self-evidently relevant to the outside world.

But the past decade has seen big changes to the way languageteaching is organised and delivered in English schools. The age range of pupils where language teaching is compulsory has shifted downwards. Now, all children start learning a foreign language, albeit gradually, when they’re just seven and continue until they’re 14. Previously the compulsory age range was between 11 and 16.

At the same time, the methods of language teaching have become much more targeted towards enabling young people to communicate in the spoken word rather than to get every single dot and comma correct in the written form. And the range of languages taught in schools has expanded enormously. Spanish, French and German remain the most popular choices, but Italian, Russian, Mandarin, Urdu, Bengali and a host of others are also taught in an increasing number of classrooms. So, for the graduate or native speaker of almost any world language, a career as a school teacher is a realistic and attractive prospect. And it’s one being followed by large numbers every year. Last September, around 1,700 graduates started one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) training courses to become foreign language teachers in secondary schools, each offering competence in at least two foreign languages, French and Spanish being the most common.

And there are now increasing numbers training to become primary teachers with a language specialism, a training route introduced three years ago. Here, trainees prepare to handle all subjects across the timetable, as well as to develop an additional expertise in introducing foreign language learning to pupils. Around 3,000 students have embarked on this route so far, most of whom are now working in primary schools.

“The primary training route is a really attractive one,” explains Teresa Tinsley, director of communications for Cilt, the government-funded National Centre for Languages, ” because you get to do one of your teaching practices abroad, which gives you an insight into another education system, and experiences that can be really valuable when you return.”

The embedding of language teaching in primary schools – a process which is still far from complete – has also created more localised links between teachers across the primary-secondary divide, as primary schools make use of the greater expertise in nearby secondary staffrooms.

This has, in turn, introduced enrichment and variety to many experienced secondary teachers. One such example is Greg Horton, an advanced skills language teacher at Wildern School, a co-educational comprehensive, in Hampshire, who now frequently visits local primary schools to support teachers in language lessons.

“As a secondary-trained teacher, my experience in primary schools has been invaluable, and has developed within me a real appreciation of the essence of language,” he explains.

“I will never forget the moment when I returned from teaching seven-year olds, with puppets draped across my shoulders, and hearing my 16-year-old Year 11 students clamouring for the same kind of fun.”

But one of the most basic aims of school is to enable children to develop the ability to express themselves in their own language, skills firmly emphasised in the recently revamped national curriculum.

While much of this work, of course, goes on in English lessons, the foreign language teacher can also significantly augment pupils’ all-round competence in this regard.

“All language areas of the brain are linked,” explains Tinsley, “and learning a language helps to develop other important learning areas, such as the memory function, abstract thinking and the ability to understand the communication needs of other people.”

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