Monthly Archives: July 2010

New Haven Schools Receive Foreign Language Grant

Good news — at least somewhere.  The New Haven, CT, schools have received $1.3 from the U.S. Department of Education to teach Chinese and Arabic to their students.  Here’s the article from the New Haven Register, July 28, 2010:

The public schools have received a $1.3 million federal Foreign Language Assistance Program grant for Chinese and Arabic culture and language programs, the district said in a statement.

The five-year grant, provided through the U.S. Department of Education, “is intended to strengthen, expand, and enrich the teaching of critical languages essential for our nation’s international competitiveness,” the statement said.

“We are extremely pleased to receive this grant,” Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo said in the statement. “Our School Change Initiative is focused on ensuring that our students are well prepared to succeed in the new world market. Providing them skills in these emerging languages and cultures will help them to be highly marketable in our global economy.”

The district offers Spanish, French, Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese, the statement said. The Chinese and Arabic language programs were started in 2007.

The district in September will expand the Chinese language program, now in four elementary/middle schools and three high schools, by adding Level 3 courses, expanding the program to two additional middle schools, and hiring two additional full-time teachers, the statement said.

One full-time and one part-time teacher will be added to the Arabic language program and it will be expanded into an additional middle school and high school, the statement said. The Arabic program is in two elementary/middle schools and two high schools.

The district plans that, by the 2013-14 school year, it will have eight full-time Chinese teachers and six full-time Arabic teachers.

“This grant offers our students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the language, customs and people of another culture.

“As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, our students’ future success may likely rely on an ability to understand other cultures and speak other languages,” Karen deFur, the district’s foreign language supervisor and leader of the grant-writing effort, said in the statement.

Mayo shared how enthusiastic he is about the parental involvement aspect of this grant. “We continue to encourage parents to get involved in their children’s education, and this is a very unique model that I look forward to seeing more of.”

Part of the grant “involves the design and implementation of a Saturday program where students and parents attend separate classes focused on the language program the child has chosen. Parents will learn basic language skills and cultural aspects, and there will be field trips that parents and students enjoy together,” the statement said.

New Haven joined with Yale University and the state Department of Education in the grant process. “New Haven is the only school district in Connecticut to be awarded this 2010 grant,” Claudia Merson, director of public school partnerships at Yale University, said in the statement, “and Yale University is delighted to be a part of it.”

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Twin Cities Toddlers Learn Foreign Languages

Great idea!  Now, if only other school systems would follow. From my own experience (I started learning a foreign language at age four), starting to learn a language from a very young age is the best way.  Young children love to soak in everything new. I know I did. Below is the article written by Maja Beckstrom,”Typical preschool? Nein,” from The Pioneer Press, July 25, 2010:

It looked like any other preschool craft project. A group of children sat around a table gluing paper cutouts of body parts onto a cartoon drawing of a boy.

What set the scene apart was language.

“Der Junge hat eine Nase,” explained teacher Sarah Dye as she handed a child a paper nose. “Hier ist der mund,” she said, handing him the mouth.

“I can’t find the legs,” another little boy complained.

Dye rattled off something in German. The boy listened with his head tipped to one side, and then, following her suggestion, lifted his paper to locate the missing legs that had slipped underneath.

Most students in the U.S. don’t study a foreign language until high school, but at Kinderstube, the routines of preschool are carried out entirely in German, from hand washing to circle songs. The program opened last year in the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue in St. Paul and is an example of increasing interest in immersion language programs for toddlers and preschool-age children.

Nearly 50 children attend Kinderstube St. Paul and the original site in Minneapolis, which opened in 2005. Mundo Nuevo-New World Bilingual Child Care Center is opening what seems to be St. Paul’s first Spanish-language day care and preschool this fall, expanding from its current location in Inver Grove Heights. Similar Spanish preschools in Minneapolis, Hopkins, Plymouth and Burnsville have waitlists. Toddlers in Minneapolis are learning Ojibwe and Dakota. Concordia

Language Villages, which has run summer camps for years near Bemidji, branched into pre-K in 2006 and now has more than 200 preschoolers enrolled in metro-area classes in Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish and Mandarin Chinese.

“These programs for 3- and 4-year-olds are springing up around the country,” said Tara Fortune, immersion projects coordinator at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota. “We are seeing more of them. Families are wanting to start their kids in learning a second language earlier and earlier.”


When it comes to learning a second language, the earlier, the better. An adult must study for years to master a new tongue and will likely speak with an accent. Children, young children especially, seem to learn effortlessly. They mimic unfamiliar vowels and rolling r’s, absorb words without flashcards and pick up grammar on the fly. They are not self-conscious. No one has told them that learning a new language is hard.

“With an earlier start, you’re more likely to have native-like pronunciation,” Fortune said. “Your auditory processing is still able to perceive the nuances of different sounds.”

Babies are born with the ability to hear every human sound, but studies show our sensitivity begins to disappear when we’re 8 months old and declines through childhood.

“One of the things our brain naturally does is to weed out extraneous information,” Fortune said. “Why should I be able to hear the tones in Mandarin if I never am exposed to it and it’s not part of what I need to make sense of the world? If I do not hear it or need it, my ability to perceive the difference gradually goes away.”

Elizabeth Irish of St. Paul witnessed her 3-year-old daughter’s language advantage when she signed up for a Concordia parent-and-child Norwegian class.

“I was shocked and amazed at how much language she had picked up,” said Irish, who drove to Minneapolis for the weekly class. “I picked up a little bit, but nothing like what she picked up. It was amazing to me.”

Irish was so taken with the idea of her daughter learning another language that she sent Jane alone for two mornings per week of Norwegian the following year. Six hours a week of Norwegian does not qualify as immersion, but the exposure left Jane able to understand and speak quite a bit and made learning a third language easier. Irish now sends her daughter to Yinghua Academy, a Mandarin Chinese immersion charter school in Minneapolis, where the kindergarten teacher was convinced that someone was speaking to Jane in Mandarin at home.

“I think she has an aptitude for languages,” said Irish, who speaks only English. “She seemed to take to it more naturally than other kids. But starting Norwegian that early, I know, made a difference.”


Parents enroll their children in a non-English preschool for a variety of reasons. Some want to prepare a child for immersion elementary school. As K-12 language-immersion programs have grown in popularity, demand has trickled down to the pre-K years. Other parents want their child to develop a connection to a family heritage. Nearly all parents are hoping to give their child an advantage in an increasingly global economy and multicultural Minnesota.

Maiken Givot enrolled her 5-year-old son, Pascal, at Kinderstube because she wanted an environment that would support her efforts at raising a bilingual son.

“I’ve learned several languages over the course of my life, and I thought if he could learn this from the get-go, it will save him so much time later in his life,” said Givot, a native of Germany. Since Pascal was born, Givot has spoken to him only in German. (Except when she “means business,” and speaks to him in English, she said.) He chats weekly on the phone in German with his Omi and Opa, his mother’s parents, who live in the German state of Saxony. Pascal’s American-born father and his nanny speak to him in English. Learning two languages from the cradle, Pascal is what linguists call a “simultaneous bilingual.”

“He speaks both languages without accent,” Givot said. “He doesn’t have to think twice to translate something into the second language. He will be able to choose where he wants to live and where he wants to work. He could become a simultaneous translator. He has something I do not have.”

Kids who do not have a native speaker in the home can still become fairly fluent in a second language, depending on how early the child starts, the amount of time at school, and the opportunities for continuing to build on the language. An immersion program is generally defined as at least a half-day every weekday, Fortune said.

“I think you need continuous exposure, day in and day out,” said Leah Johnson, whose daughter attended Mundo Nuevo in Inver Grove Heights. Johnson is now co-director of the center, which will open a second site in September in Hamline United Methodist Church in St. Paul.

“My daughter was there about three days a week, and she didn’t become completely fluent in that time,” Johnson said. “The more time you’re there, the more you’ll pick up. The kids who go to the center full time for more than one year, they come out very fluent.”


Lori Gerten heard about Mundo Nuevo from a neighbor. Gerten took Spanish in high school and studied a semester in Spain during college. Mundo Nuevo, she thought, would be a painless way to give her child the language proficiency it took her years to achieve.

“I think it’s very important for children to be bilingual, and it’s a lot easier to learn when you’re young, when your brain is wired to receive it so quickly.”

Gerten’s daughter Grace heard nothing but Spanish at Mundo Nuevo from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., five days a week during the school year. After two years, “she was up there with a 4- or 5-year-old native Spanish speaker,” Gerten said. “Basically she would have to translate for me.”

Unfortunately, a child’s brain is also wired to forget quickly. Most children at Mundo Nuevo enrolled at Adams Spanish Immersion Magnet in St. Paul. For family convenience, Gerten sent Grace to an English-speaking school near home last fall, where she promptly lost her Spanish.

“She remembers things, but it’s nothing like it was,” Gerten said. “It’s sad; it breaks my heart.”

The use-it-or-lose-it principle is especially true for languages. But even a child like Grace who does not continue hearing a second language may have some advantages. Early exposure may create “an ear for the language” and a general sense of comfort and affinity that could make it easier to relearn later, Fortune said.

If a child continues with an immersion experience, the benefits are more striking. Compared with children schooled only in their mother tongue, immersion students score higher in a range of cognitive skills, including creative problem solving and nonverbal communication.

“That makes sense,” Fortune said. “These 3- or 4-years-olds are having to make sense of their environment and the teacher’s nonverbal cues until the language becomes meaningful to them.”


At Kinderstube, verbal and nonverbal communications clearly reinforce the other. After a teacher told the children in German that they would tidy up for circle time in five minutes, she held up her five fingers like a traffic cop and walked around the room repeating: “In funf Minuten. Funf Minuten.” When she invited the children to bring a chair to the circle, she pointed to a chair and then nodded with a smile and repeated “Ein Stuhl” as a child dragged one across the floor.

During circle time, the children sang a welcome song and then the teacher asked each child in turn how he or she was that day, looking straight at them with an open, curious gaze. Even a non-German speaker could tell what she was asking. The children responded in German with “good,” or in the case of one girl, “tired.”

Some of the children had just started Kinderstube this summer, with no previous German. They followed along with what other kids were doing, whether or not they understood what was being said. No one looked confused or unhappy, a concern for some parents. (If a child is hurt or upset, the teacher will switch to English. Nobody wants to traumatize a kid.)

Some parents who tour the immersion preschools also ask whether their child’s English will suffer. But studies of longstanding preschool programs, including a German program in Milwaukee and a Hawaiian-language program in Hawaii, have shown that not to be the case.

“English is not a problem,” Fortune said. “Immersion students do as well or better on academic tests given in English, even when they are immersed in a non-English language in preschool. The findings there are very clear and consistent.”

In large part, that’s because English is being spoken everywhere else a child goes during the week — at home, on television and in the grocery store.

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Foreign Languages Key to Education

The following interview is about a French teacher who shares her love of the French language with her students.

Shawn Cetrone, “For York Teacher, Foreign Languages Key to Education” July 24, 2010 (Herald online)

Polly Adkins has been teaching French at York Comprehensive High School since it opened in the 1970s.

This month she received a Dorothy Ludwig Award from the American Association of Teachers of French – an honor for educators “who have demonstrated excellence and commitment in teaching French language, culture and literature … and made a significant impact on students.”

The award, presented to educators in elementary, secondary and college, comes with a cash prize.

Adkins, who also teaches drama, is her school’s only French teacher and works with students at all levels. She talked with The Herald about teaching, and how budget cuts might affect foreign language programs.

What made you decide to teach foreign language for a living? Why French?

I had an excellent high school French teacher, Edna Ann Nolan Belk, who gave me a very sound basis in the French language and a love for French culture. When asked to declare a major my freshman year in college, I impulsively wrote down “French,” because it was the subject I loved the best.

At Winthrop, I also had wonderful French professors who continued the excellent teaching, taking me to Paris for study at the Sorbonne and to the Université de Laval in Québec.

What has kept you teaching for so many years?

I love seeing teenagers begin to awaken to possibilities; the possibilities of learning to speak and read a foreign language, the possibilities of travel to a foreign country and of realizing that their cultural world in York is not all there is out there.

I also love to see the magic of theater take shape in their minds. I love the fact that my summers can occasionally be spent visiting France or performing professionally in summer theater. Financially, I have needed to continue to teach so that I can pay the normal bills and afford these occasional trips.

Should foreign language be an elementary and middle school requirement like it is in high school?

Yes. The language learning part of the brain begins slowly to atrophy right after puberty. This is not to say that adults and teenagers can’t learn a foreign language; they can, but it’s harder to do. It makes no sense to lose those ripe years when language learning is so easy.

Elementary and middle school programs for foreign language make good sense, and many studies show that students who have access to such teaching do better in all their school work, no matter what the subject. Of course the problem here is funding, but foreign language programs should start in elementary schools, just as they do in most European countries.

Across the state, budget cuts are hurting academic programs in public schools. Some districts have cut elementary school foreign language courses as a result of budget cuts. Do you have a sense of how foreign language has been affected? How might that affect students as they progress through elementary, middle and high school?

I have heard from colleagues across the state that some programs have been dropped. For instance, some schools have been forced by lack of funds to provide only one foreign language for the district, instead of two or more. Some elementary school programs have been cut. Some foreign language teachers who are retiring are not being replaced at the moment.

Not to get into politics, but it’s sad when the state can’t provide for the basics of education. And foreign languages should be considered basic to a good education in the United States. I wish the property taxes hadn’t been eliminated as a source for school funds, because that’s when most of the schools’ financial problems began.

Everyone wants lower taxes, but we all seem to forget that taxes pay for the schools and the teachers who teach the state’s children. In a “free” public school society, everybody pays one way or another, now or later.

You were one of the first South Carolina teachers to have students correspond with peers in another country over the Internet. Are the students ever surprised by what they learn from their French peers and vice versa?

The students learn about a culture that is different from their own, but they also realize that they aren’t so different from their counterparts in France. We actually had exchange programs with home stays between the two schools, too.

Nowadays, students can communicate with foreign students on their own, by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. It’s relatively easy.

What advice do you have for adults who want to learn a foreign language?

A tutor is the best method, but of course, it’s also the most expensive. There are groups such as the Alliance Française that meet regularly and encourage people to speak French with natives or American francophones. There are also several excellent software programs that can adequately teach the basics of any foreign language.

Local universities and technical colleges often offer classes for adults to learn languages. Foreign travel and longer stays in the foreign country are the best way to perfect the basic knowledge.

It’s not easy, but it can be achieved if you are dedicated enough to stick with it. A language is a habit, and you can lose it fairly quickly if you don’t use it. But I often remind people that the brain can store the language you learned in school, deep in unused drawers, which can be opened and retrieved anytime.

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Reinventing Foreign Languages and Other Musings on a Hot Day

Maybe it’s the heat (which is really intense) this summer that made me do it.  Or, maybe it’s the fact that I love learning foreign languages.  So, I decided to continue my study of both the  Japanese and Arabic languages throughout the summer.  I found a great place not too far from me (it’s air-conditioned, thank goodness) where I learn Japanese from natives, who really make the learning fun! Thanks to them I’ve learned Hiragana (one of the three Japanese alphabets) and am looking forward to learning a lot more from them all the way through my senior year and beyond!   I’m also continuing my  Arabic study with a very knowledgeable person, too.  And, then, I’ve been learning German on my own.  I didn’t think I would like the language at first but I was wrong.  I hope to visit Germany next year and be able to make some conversation with friends of my parents who live in Berlin.  My problem will be how to continue learning all these languages when I’m in college!  Can I be a triple language major as well as an international studies major?!!  I know that’s not going to be possible but . . . maybe I’ll find a way.  Any thoughts?

Well, I found this article about how universities are trying to appeal to non-language majors/minors — reinventing their departments and making foreign language fun.   Hope other places follow their leads.

Elizabeth Redden, “Languages Plus,” Inside Higher Ed (July 23, 2010):

Timothy A. Bennett strives toward a new vision for the foreign language department. “You can think of a university as a little continent full of different kingdoms,” said Bennett, chair of the foreign languages and literatures department at Wittenberg University, a Lutheran liberal arts college in Ohio. “I’d prefer that language departments suffused the curriculum rather than just be another kingdom among many kingdoms.”

To that end, Wittenberg’s language department has revised its own intermediate-level language classes — making them more interdisciplinary in nature — and has spread outward across the university in the form of a new “Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum” (CLAC) program. In making these recent changes — with the help of a two-year, $179,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education — Wittenberg’s foreign language faculty were responding both to a charge to “internationalize” the curriculum and to a growing sense that student interests were changing. “The traditional study of language and literature really wasn’t addressing the current generation,” Bennett said. “So how could we begin to reach out and find ways for students to understand the importance of language and culture study and to see language not necessarily as an end unto itself but as a tool of discovery, a way of encountering the world and the disciplines?”

In Wittenberg’s CLAC program, students sign up for a one-credit language module as an optional add-on to a non-language class in another discipline. In a tutorial fashion, the student designs an independent project in consultation with the professor of the content class and executes it under the guidance of a foreign language faculty member (advising CLAC students now counts toward a foreign language professor’s teaching load). “The point is not to make it into a language class,” said Bennett. “The point is to make it an experience with the content area where the language is the key to being able to complete the project.” For instance, Bennett, who teaches German, worked with a student in a geology class as she researched geothermal energy and seismic activity in Germany. Students in a Chinese-language module for a course on Japanese history researched how China responded to the bombing at Hiroshima.

“That’s a really tough nut to crack,” said Bennett. “You’re working with students with an intermediate knowledge of Chinese and they may only get a small chunk of that problem solved. They may only be able to look at very small portions of newspaper articles, or maybe only look at propaganda posters in some cases, but nonetheless what happened is they were able to see ways in which language and culture construct knowledge.”

The only prerequisite for the CLAC modules is to be enrolled in or have completed a two-credit intermediate-level language course. “One of the points we want to make with students is even if you’re at a beginning/intermediate level, you can begin doing something with a language,” Bennett said.

Which brings up the revised intermediate-level courses. Wittenberg threw out the traditional model in which skills – composition and conversation – are the organizing principle. Instead the college teaches language through interdisciplinary study. After one year of college language — the French, German, Russian or Spanish 1 and 2 sequence – students can now elect to take a variety of half-semester, two-credit intermediate-level language courses in topics in history, the environment, film, national identity, and translation, for example. (Chinese and Japanese retain more traditional intermediate-level courses, due to the steeper learning curve for those languages.) “What we’re trying to do is build as many gateways for students to come in and study language and culture, connect it to as many issues, topics as we can,” said Bennett.

Or, as Timothy L. Wilkerson, an associate professor of French put it, “We had to find a way to make second-year French not suck.” In the traditional composition class, as he explained, “Everything you do is wrong. Everything you do is circled in red and everything has to be rewritten and often by the teacher.” Prior to the curricular changes, the French department was struggling. It wasn’t uncommon for Wilkerson to teach upper-level literature courses with just three students. But after he taught an intermediate French course on the natural environment this year – the title of the French-language text he used translates as Ecology for Idiots – three of the students from that single class signed up for a French minor, Wilkerson said. “It taught them something about the world, in French, that they didn’t know. It was all bad news unfortunately,” Wilkerson said, cheekily.

In broad strokes, Wittenberg’s two-pronged reforms – an embrace of interdisciplinarity within the department’s offerings and a movement across departmental boundaries to make language study relevant to a broader demographic of students – represent a microcosm of the kind of change language departments across the nation are debating and discussing. An influential 2007 Modern Language Association report,“Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World,” called for giving students options for language study beyond the traditional literary track, and for increased collaboration with departments across campus. Noting that only 6.1 percent of foreign language majors attain a doctoral degree, the report states that, “for those students and for others who enjoy literary studies, one path to the

major should be through literature. But to attract students from other fields and students with interests beyond literary studies, particularly students returning from a semester or a year abroad, departments should institute courses that address a broad range of curricular needs.”

“The foreign language programs at many institutions are facing budget cuts, and a lot of institutions have been looking hard to strengthen the programs, especially in collaboration with other units on campus,” said Rosemary Feal, the MLA’s executive director.

“What we’re seeing is a shifting in thinking on the part of faculty members in foreign language departments. They are rethinking their curricula in the light of changing needs of students in the 21st century, a desire to internationalize the campus, and in response to shifting budget priorities.”

Integrating Content and Language

More students than ever are studying abroad, albeit increasingly on short-term programs. Virtually every college seems to have added “international” or “global” to its mission statement or strategic plan. Colleges are offering more languages than in the past and increasing numbers of students are signing up (total foreign language enrollments climbed 12.9 percent from 2002 to 2006, according to an MLA survey). And yet depressingly small numbers of students ever reach the advanced levels of proficiency that a “global citizen” might be presumed to possess (as that same MLA survey found, enrollments beyond introductory-level language courses drop off dramatically).

“If you’re going to internationalize the curriculum, it seems to me that languages should be leading the charge,” said Bennett, of Wittenberg. “I think sometimes the reason we’re not is it does require some rethinking of what we’re doing.”

Language departments increasingly have had to look beyond the pool of potential majors and minors and ask “Who’s my audience?” said Heidi Byrnes, a professor of German at Georgetown University and president of the American Association for Applied Linguistics. “And I think the potential audience has to be everybody.”

“The challenge I see now in a more globalized environment is it is not just sufficient for people to be able to communicate with others on a daily basis, and learn to appreciate each other on a personal level, but what’s happening now is we’re finding more and more of a need to use language in a professional environment,” she said. Students should be prepared to use language in a variety of professional contexts, Byrnes said, and thus the need for integrating content and language acquisition has never been greater — and her own German department at Georgetown has gained national recognition for doing just that. But while it can be done, Byrnes cautions, linking the two isn’t easy. “From the standpoint of applied linguistics, it continues to be very challenging to come up with a principled link, not just an ad-hoc link, between language learning and content learning,” she said.

Content-based language generally describes what happens when language professors offer courses in other disciplines — in ecology, history, or politics, for instance. The goal, first and foremost, remains teaching the language, with interdisciplinary study a means to this end. On the other side of the spectrum are the “language across the curriculum” programs, which Stephen Straight of the State University of New York at Binghamton, has described as “language-based content instruction.”

Straight, a professor of anthropology and linguistics and senior adviser for international initiatives, spearheaded the creation of a language across the curriculum program at Binghamton in the early 90s. In Binghamton’s program, graduate students facilitate study groups in a target language for a select number of courses. “It’s not a language acquisition program, it’s a language use program,” Straight explained. “We use the language to help students have a more international perspective on the content of a course,” by examining applicable texts written in the target language, for instance.

The language across the curriculum programs aren’t new – a member of the “across the curriculum” family (writing, science, communication, etc.) – the initiative was born of the late 80s and early 90s, and at some campuses faded when federal grant support ran out. But a core group of believers feels that the movement never reached its full potential and has new relevance as colleges increasingly incorporate international perspectives in their curriculums.

“For so many of our U.S. students, the only time they’re going to use a non-English language in an applied way is if they’re doing an immersion program in study abroad,” said Diana K. Davies, vice provost for international initiatives at Princeton University and president of the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum consortium, which is made up of 10 institutions: Baldwin-Wallace and Skidmore Colleges; Binghamton, Drake, Portland State and Wittenberg Universities; and the Universities of Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Richmond.

While one of the 10 universities in the CLAC consortium, Drake University, eliminated its foreign language departments about a decade ago and now offers language instruction in new ways, Davies stressed that CLAC initiatives should not be seen as replacements for language programs but as international elements of the curriculum.

“Some people might say, ‘Here comes languages across the curriculum’ and they’ve found a way to outsource what language experts are doing. That’s not the goal of CLAC,” said Davies. “It’s not, if you will, to teach foreign language on the cheap, to outsource it to native speakers. The goal is rather to get over this idea that so many students have that French or German or Russian is something you do or study in your French or German or Russian class. Yes, you do that, and you need a French, German or Russian expert to help you, but what we’re showing is that French or German or Russian are things you can use in your history or biology or business course. And you don’t have to be fluent in those languages to really benefit from whatever ability you have.”

A criticism of CLAC, in fact, is that, in privileging the study of disciplinary content, it involves too little attention to language acquisition. “If we’re talking about students eventually reaching advanced-level skills, the language piece can’t be left out,” said Carol A. Klee, assistant vice president for international scholarship and a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese studies at the University of Minnesota.

Language Across the Curriculum

A variety of different models for language across the curriculum programs exist. Like Binghamton, UNC Chapel Hill hires graduate students – at a rate of $5,000 per semester – to teach discussion sections in target languages. For instance, this fall students can sign up for a Spanish discussion section for a business course in Global Marketing, or a French discussion section for a history course on 20th Century Europe. For less commonly taught languages, there are combined discussion sections, in which students from three courses dealing with related issues in the Middle East, for instance, can sign up for a single discussion section conducted in Arabic. Graduate students who teach in North Carolina’s program can earn a graduate certificate in LAC instruction.

Baldwin-Wallace College, in Ohio, has experimented with a number of models, including LAC-embedded courses, in which interested faculty allow students to complete selected assignments in a specific language. For instance, in a macroeconomics course, students can take up the instructor’s option to complete certain assignments in Spanish. Baldwin-Wallace also offers a one-credit course, in French, German, or Spanish, as an optional add-on to a required core course called Enduring Questions for an Intercultural World.

This latter option hasn’t proven particularly popular, but Baldwin-Wallace just received a $195,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop two-credit stand-alone courses within the majors, taught in target languages – for instance, a biology professor has developed a Spanish-language course on environmental science in Latin America, and an education professor has developed a course on the use of Spanish in primary and secondary classrooms. These courses will not generally be team-taught but instead will rely on a cadre of professors in a variety of disciplines who have professional-level expertise in another language. The grant also allows Baldwin-Wallace to hire a new professor of Chinese and business, and provides scholarship funding – $750 per student to be matched by another $750 from Baldwin-Wallace – for students who’ve taken a LAC course to study abroad.

“We have tried to develop incentives to get students interested,” said Judy B. Krutky, director for intercultural education and professor of political science and international studies at Baldwin-Wallace. “From my perspective the question has always been, ‘How do we get more Americans to study a foreign language?’ ”

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U.S. Representatives to Support More Foreign Language Study in K-12

Two Democratic members of Congress reportedly hope to introduce a bill that would increase funding for the teaching of foreign languages to K-12 students.  That’s great news! We need more Congressmen(women) who think like them!  The following story is by Mary Ann Zehr, “U.S. Reps. Push for  Foreign-Language Teaching in ESEA” from Education Week (July 21, 2010):

Two Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives said at a policy briefing yesterday on Capitol Hill that they plan to introduce a bill that would authorize $400 million in funding for fiscal 2011 for the teaching of foreign languages to K-12 students. They hope the bill will become part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“Today, the lack of a second language doesn’t just isolate people. It makes them less competitive,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, from California, at the briefing, which was hosted by the Asia Society and several other organizations that have joined together to advocate for more foreign-language instruction at the K-12 level. Chu, who grew up in a bilingual household, said that people who speak more than one language end up with “more customers” and “a better future.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, from New York, also pledged his support for the bill and also emphasized how bilingualism can improve a young person’s economic prospects. “Our future workers are going to be working in a global marketplace. They need to know English isn’t the only language in the world,” he said.

Organizers for the event said that U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey, is also supporting the bill, though he was unable to attend the briefing.

A description of the bill handed out at the briefing said it would provide $100 million for the U.S. Department of Education to take a leadership role in supporting the teaching of foreign languages, such as coordinating with the departments of state, defense, and commerce to promote best practices for language teaching. Some of the money would provide scholarships for students and teachers to study abroad.

Another $100 million would go to states to “expand and articulate” statewide efforts for language learning.

Lastly, the bill draft proposes that $200 million pay for grants from the Education Department to “partnerships” that would develop and expand model foreign-language programs. Right now, the Education Department has only one grant program with this purpose, called the Foreign Language Assistance Program. That program gave out $19 million in fiscal 2009, down from $23 million in 2008.

So if this bill were approved, it would mean a huge increase in funding for language learning by the federal government.

Most of the presentations at the briefing focused on how to boost programs for children who don’t speak a language other than English at home. Dan E. Davidson, the president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies, made a case for why the United States would benefit from having students start learning Russian at the K-12 level rather than starting out with the language as college freshmen. Essentially, he said, if students come to college with some proficiency in Russian, colleges and universities can be successful in moving them to a proficiency level that they can use professionally. But if they start from scratch in college, they don’t reach professional competence by the end of four years.

One presenter, Michael Nugent, the deputy director of the National Security Education Program, a federal initiative backing the learning of less commonly taught languages, mentioned a pilot program at the K-12 level that builds on the skills of students who speak Arabic at home and attend Dearborn, Mich. public schools. In that program, Dearborn public schools are benefiting from a U.S. Department of Defense grant that went to Michigan State University to work with K-12 schools to create an Arabic-language-learning pipeline. I wrote about the potential to increase Arabic teaching and learning in Dearborn schools back in 2006.

“Once you build the program,” said Nugent at the policy briefing, “not only does the heritage community come out and support it, the non-heritage people get exited, too.”

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Government Foreign Languages Hearing Scheduled

Did you know that the US Government  will have a hearing on July 29, 2010, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building about the language gap and how to improve the federal government’s foreign language capabilities?  For those of you who live in the greater Washington, D.C., area, the hearing will be in room SD-342 and should be interesting. There may be a live video of the proceedings as well for those who cannot attend.

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Saying Adieu to French and Aufwiedersehen to German?

Well, maybe not just yet in the Pittsburgh area.  There are still students interested in French and German culture, according to an article by Mackenzie Carpenter of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette (July 17, 2010):

PITTSBURGH—Jaclyn Davis, of Akron, Ohio, may be as American as apple pie, but when she answers the phone at La Gourmandine bakery in Lawrenceville, her accent is as rich, fruity and authentically French as the tarte aux fraises sold there.

And therein lies the problem: the 22-year old cashier at the new bakery is also a student at the University of Akron, working towards a teaching certificate in French, a culture she adores but a career choice she has to defend to her fellow Americans nearly every day.

“When I was working at Home Depot, I’d get wisecracks all the time,” Ms. Davis said, mostly from people who couldn’t understand why she’d want to learn French. “They’d say, ‘Oh, the French are cowards, they didn’t fight with us in the Iraq war, what do you want to do that for?’ ”

Ditto for Megan Leinbach, a German major at the University of Pittsburgh.

“My classes are full,” said Ms. Leinbach, 21, who hails from Lancaster County. “But some of my friends say German’s a dying language, and I have to remind them that Germany is an economic powerhouse, so I don’t think it’s dying, exactly.”

Once upon a time, they were known as The Big Three: Spanish, French and German, and they are still the top three languages taught in colleges across America—although Spanish leads the other two by a mile.

Think about it: in what is widely referred to as “The Asian Century,” nearly a billion people speak Mandarin Chinese. Nearly half a billion speak Spanish. And now, a raft of studies are showing that higher percentages of American students are likely to tackle Pinyin—the alphabetized version of Chinese—than the intricacies of the French subjunctive or German punctuation.

Ach!! Is French passe? Is German kaput?

Not exactly, but signs of decline are there, locally and nationally: Some of Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities are seriously debating whether to offer French and German majors after current students graduate. Enrollment in French classes is shrinking in Pittsburgh’s public schools, and one high school is considering phasing out its longtime German program. Shady Side Academy, a private school with campuses in Fox Chapel and the East End of Pittsburgh, is eliminating French and German from its middle school curriculum to focus on Spanish, Mandarin and Latin.

A study released this year by the Center for Applied Linguistics found that elementary school students taking French decreased from 27 percent in 1997 to 11 percent in 2008.

At the college level, “The Big Three” still predominate in terms of numbers of students, with Spanish first at 822,985, French second at 206,426 and German third at 94,264, according to a 2006 study by the Modern Language Association.

But that same study found that percentages of enrollment growth for those two languages from 2002 to 2006 was in the single digits, compared to double-digit growth for Chinese and Spanish and triple-digit growth for Arabic.

Of course, fashions in language change. In the 19th century, all well-educated Americans studied German and French. Russian took off in American schools after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in the 1950s. In the 1980s, Japan’s economic boom—and subsequent bust—set off a similar cycle in that language’s popularity.

These days, neither French nor German is considered central to the modern American’s life or sensibility, says John McWhorter, a linguist and contributing editor at The Manhattan Institute, a New York City think tank.

“The emphasis on French learning back in the day was based on a logical desire to teach people a language that most foreigners they were likely to meet could speak,” he said. “Today knowing some French is one part a marker of middle-class propriety and one part a key to reading ‘Madame Bovary.’ ”

Tight budgets are forcing the issue for many schools, notes Martha Abbott of the American Council for Teachers of Foreign Languages. As the effects of the economic recession hit school districts, “… when you have to choose between math and a foreign language, you’re going to cut out a foreign language.”

Budget concerns weren’t directly to blame for some state-owned universities in Pennsylvania placing French and German majors “in moratorium”—which means they will not be accepting new students, although that could change.

In some cases, State System of Higher Education spokesman Kenn Marshall said, only a handful of students were enrolled in those classes.

“Given the resources we have available, we want to be sure we’re offering students programs they want and need and that also meet the state’s needs, since we’re public universities,” he said.

Some of the colleges in the system have been talking about combining resources to preserve French and German majors, he added.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the Northeast with no foreign language requirement for high school graduation, said Marsha Plotkin, who heads the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ world language program. Citing the state’s 500 school districts—one of the highest numbers of any state—”requiring a foreign language for every small school district would be a big expense.”

Nonetheless, “the decline of French is puzzling to me because of all the emerging economies in Africa where many educated people speak French,” said Ms. Plotkin, who notes that Pittsburgh once had two French and German magnet elementary schools and now has only one of each—while it has two Spanish magnet elementary schools and a third offering a special focus on Spanish.

Pittsburgh Allderdice High School and Pittsburgh Schenley offer French and German along with three other languages, although there have been discussions about phasing back the German program at Allderdice. Other city schools, faced with budget cuts, have responded in different ways: French language was cut to a half-day at Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School, although at Pittsburgh Oliver High School the principal cut Spanish rather than French. At Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, the principal kept French, Ms. Plotkin said.

In Mt. Lebanon, French enrollment has declined slightly, while interest in German has been “fairly steady, with slight ups and downs,” said Nancy Campbell, who supervises the district’s language program. Shady Side Academy decided to end French and German in middle school in order to focus on Spanish, Mandarin and Latin—in part because it was more difficult to schedule five different language classes. When parents were notified, “we didn’t hear a word in response. Not a peep,” said Amy Nixon, head of Shady Side’s middle school.

French holds its own in some quarters. Springdale Junior/Senior High School just added it at the request of parents, and French classes at Carnegie Mellon University are filled, with a 25-person waiting list for introductory French next fall. Bonnie Youngs, a teaching professor in CMU’s modern language department said students use the language to read architecture and engineering texts and for drama and music.

“The death of French is greatly exaggerated,” contends Richard Shryock, chairman of the foreign language and literature department at Virginia Tech.

French is spoken on all populated continents, he said, while Spanish is mostly confined to the Western Hemisphere. Twenty-seven of our trading partners are French-speaking countries, many of them in the emerging economies of Africa, he added.

Bob Kubiak, 54, of Park Place, is taking French classes from Christine Frechard, who offers them at her art gallery in Squirrel Hill. He is a huge fan of French cinema. And as a technology consultant and fine arts photographer with contacts in Paris, he’s polishing his language skills.

“Spanish has a little more applicability, but I’m just more interested in French culture,” he said.

These days, younger students—and parents—seem more attracted to the language of commerce rather than of diplomacy. “Children everywhere are learning Chinese!” shouts a headline on Even English is touted as the new global language of business—one book recently called “Globish” the new lingua franca of commerce.

Still, “It takes three times as long to master Chinese, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” Mr. Shryock said.

Louis Schwartz, president of China Strategies LLC, a Squirrel Hill-based company that advises on trade and investment with China, said he took his first Mandarin course in the 1970s after graduating from Allderdice and before heading to the University of Michigan, where eventually he earned a bachelor of arts degree in Asian studies. A year spent in Taiwan helped him achieve proficiency in the language.

“My interests in China grew out of an interest in the culture and the language and the people,” he said. “It was only later that I felt the need to turn a strong interest into a vocation.”

So will the languages of Moliere and Goethe become a luxury and not a necessity for a well-rounded young person living in “The Asian Century”?

Perhaps, but China is hardly a cultural wasteland.

“I don’t want to disparage France. It’s a lovely country. And we have a lot of history with France,” said Mr. Schwartz. “But I think there is probably no civilization with as deep and rich a cultural heritage as China.”

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