Monthly Archives: August 2010

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages


The 2010 ACTFL convention and world languages expo will take place in Boston, MA, from November 18-21, 2010.  The link to the conference is:

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Fayetteville, North Carolina, Students and Foreign Language Immersion

Paul Woolverton for The Fayetteville Observer, August 29, 2010:

At Cumberland County’s newest elementary school, the classroom rugs are adorned with world maps.

A first-grade teacher from New Zealand is decorating her room with koala and kangaroo pictures. Another teacher plans to use tai chi to blend math lessons with Asian culture.

And all 650 children at the west Fayetteville school will learn Mandarin Chinese.

New Century International Elementary is the latest example of Cumberland County’s push toward a more global education. Whereas their parents may have taken a couple of years of Spanish in high school, some children in Cumberland County today are fully immersed in foreign language by kindergarten.

The innovations put the school system at the forefront of such efforts nationwide, said Superintendent Frank Till Jr., who has made international education one of his top priorities.

The idea is to prepare children for the types of jobs they’ll get as adults. It’s particularly crucial in the hometown of Fort Bragg, whose soldiers are at the forefront of international affairs, Till said.

“Our kids, our children, when they graduate from here have to know there’s a bigger world out there than Cumberland County or the United States,” Till said. “And that they’re going to have to interact with kids from all over the world or compete with kids from all over the world.”

As a new school year begins Wednesday, children across the county are already learning lessons with a worldwide perspective. Some examples:

Three elementary schools immerse their students in Spanish. It’s the only language allowed in their math, science and some other classes. In place since 2007, the goal is to have the children fluent by fifth grade.

At Cross Creek Early College High School, which has operated on Fayetteville State University’s campus since 2005, students graduate with college credits. Some already have a year of college courses behind them before they get their diploma.

Next year, another early college high school may open. This one will focus on foreign languages and diplomacy – skills important to the Army Special Forces units based at Fort Bragg. The Army operates a language school and has discussed collaborating with the public schools on this project.

Cumberland County isn’t alone in its efforts. There are eight internationally focused schools and an early college high school in the Raleigh area, for example. Charlotte’s school system has several language immersion schools.

So far, much of Cumberland County’s efforts have been confined to about 10 of its 85 public schools. But Till – now in his second year as head of North Carolina’s fourth-largest school system – wants to make such programs available to all of the system’s 53,000 students.

“We have pieces of things, and the real thing is we’re trying to pull them together so we just don’t have … random acts of excellence, but that we have excellence everywhere,” he said.

For example, Till hopes to have seven more language immersion schools in the near future and to offer languages in addition to Spanish.

The changes in part are driven by Fort Bragg. The military base is home to about 10 percent of the Army’s active-duty troops who deploy throughout the world. And Fort Bragg is growing with BRAC. By September 2011, about 3,000 new, high-ranking military and civilian jobs will be on post. Some expect Fayetteville to become a hub for defense and homeland security companies that do business across the globe.

Till wants his students to graduate with skills needed to get those jobs.

Fayetteville already has international flavor, which surprised Till when he moved here last year. Cumberland County schools educate children from 36 foreign countries, Till said. Last year, a survey found that 48 foreign languages are spoken in homes of school-age children. The most common were Spanish, Korean, German, Vietnamese, Chinese and Arabic.

“It shows you how multicultural we are here,” Till said.

At New Century International Elementary School, teachers from China and Taiwan will teach Mandarin Chinese from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Yanling Ye used to teach high school English in China. Now she is preparing to teach Chinese nursery rhymes, children’s songs and simple phrases to kindergartners and first-graders at New Century.

“Learning Chinese is kind of a trend in the world,” Ye said.

China is North Carolina’s fastest-growing export market, according to the state Department of Commerce. It’s the world’s largest country in population and has the second-largest economy in value.

“I think it is a really good chance for them to learn more about China,” Ye said “And if they are really good at it, I think … they will have more chances than others who don’t speak Chinese” to find work and business opportunities in China.

New Century is the county’s second international school after Gray’s Creek Elementary. While New Century teaches Chinese, Gray’s Creek teaches Spanish.

At both schools, each grade level studies a different region of the world: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. The schools have at least one teacher who has lived or taught in each region, said New Century Principal Felix Keyes.

New Zealand native Amy Wesley has decorated her first-grade classroom with pictures from her part of the world. She has stocked the cupboards with Australian crackers and Vegemite spread. The lessons she is preparing are about Australia and the island nations in the southwest Pacific Ocean.

Second-grade math teacher Annie McMullen will use a set of Singaporean counting chips and tai chi exercises to help her students learn arithmetic and Asian culture at the same time. Her husband made a paper sculpture of a Chinese dragon to watch over her classroom.

The theme seems to be popular among parents, including those who are military families. Some parents have sought out the international schools.

Gray’s Creek Elementary began its international focus last year. Janice Burton said her family moved into that district so her son, John, could attend.

As a military brat, Burton attended nine schools in 12 years and was exposed to people of all races and religions. “I think it’s made me a better-rounded person, and I want the same for him,” she said.

John, now a fifth-grader, struggled before he enrolled at Gray’s Creek, Burton said.

“He just hated school,” Burton said. “He didn’t want to go. He didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t interesting to him. And from the first day, he was just captured there.”

John’s fourth-grade teachers incorporated information about Europe during their lessons, Burton said. For example, his math teacher had the students calculate the distances between European cities.

Wendy Cook and her Air Force husband recently bought a home in west Fayetteville so their 5-year-old son, Ross, could attend New Century.

Ross has already lived in Australia and Germany, Cook said, “so we feel he’s already multicultural, and we want to continue to nurture that in him.”

She thinks the Chinese lessons will help tune his brain to learn foreign languages and give him an advantage if he goes into business or becomes a pilot – which he wants to do when he grows up.

Lawrencia Pierce, whose husband is a soldier, thinks the language training at New Century will help her 7-year-old twins develop thinking and learning skills. She wants the boys to learn about other cultures.

“When they grow up, they will have a tolerance, if you will, or an acceptance of other cultures and traditions because they have been exposed to it at an early level,” Pierce said.

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New Jersey’s First Spanish-English Charter School

Katie Colaneri,, August 27, 2010:

Hoboken made state history today as the site of New Jersey’s first Spanish-English charter school.

Hoboken Dual Language Schoolofficially opened its doors to the community in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, bringing to fruition the hopes of the school’s co-founders Jennifer Hindman Sargent and Camille Korschun Bustillo.

“It’s a very emotional day for us and a thrilling one,” Sargent told the crowd of children, parents, teachers and city officials that gathered in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Hoboken on Jefferson Street where the school will make its home.

Among those present for the ribbon-cutting were Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Freeholder Anthony Romano, and 4th Ward Councilman Michael Lenz. Several members of HoLa’s inaugural class sat on the steps of the Club, wearing white t-shirts embossed with their new school’s logo.

Also present for the ceremony was Ruban Ramos who was not there as a state assemblyman, but as the parent of one of HoLa’s 132 K-through-second grade students.

“We all know we live in a world without borders,” he said moments before he helped snip the ribbon. “And today, us parents are taking a leap of faith and saying, ‘We want our children to understand another language because we want to give them the tools to be successful in this world.”

On a political note, Ramos thanked former governor Jon Corzine who approved HoLa’s charter last September.

“We saw it as a really unique educational opportunity,” said Tom Azzolini whose 8-year-old daughter Montana will start second grade at HoLa on September 7th. “We feel it’s like a value-added thing that  she’s going to get a good education and now she’s being given this other tool which in and of itself is great.”

“I think it’s going to be a pretty coveted school to get into in Hoboken, granted that educational opportunities are not as good as they could be… so it offers another alternative.”

Students were admitted based on a lottery conducted in January of this year. Each year, the school will add a grade level until it is a full-fledged K-5 elementary school.

“The school features an emphasis on the arts, an experimental approach, and a multicultural perspective. Studies show that students in dual language programs tend to outperform their monolingual peers academically,” stated a recent press release from the school.

HoLa will feature enrichment and after-school programs designed to compliment their daily bilingual education which school director Maria Acosta said will encourage multicultural appreciation and give the students and edge in the future job market.

“The benefits are endless of being bilingual, biliterate,” she said.

This was the appeal for one Hoboken mother whose son will enter one of HoLa’s two Kindergarten classes.

“Cross-cultural communication, even if he’s dealing with people from a non-Spanish speaking country, helps him be more sensitive to all cultures even if his background is just in Spanish,” she said.

Sargent and Bustillo originally proposed HoLa as a program for the Hoboken public schools which was met with strong resistance by some parents who felt funding would be better used elsewhere in the school system. This, Bustillo said, was what ultimately pushed them to apply for a charter.

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Serious Foreign Language Decline in UK

Britain’s schools continue to fail with regard to foreign language teaching, according to this article by Richard Garner in The Independent, August 26, 2010:

The damage to language teaching in secondary schools may be irreparable, the leader of the country’s secondary school headteachers said yesterday.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said some schools no longer had staff teaching the subject to their 14- to 16-year-olds.

He was speaking after this year’s GCSE results confirmed a further drop in the take-up of French and German – pushing French out of the list of the top 10 most popular subjects at GCSE for the first time.

The number of pupils taking both languages has halved in the past decade.

Dr Dunford said many language teachers were now having toteach other subjects. “The fall may be a cumulative effect of losing good staff.

“You would have expected the decline to have tailed off two years ago if it was just down to the decision to stop making the subject compulsory, but it has continued,” he said.

Ministers decided to make languages voluntary for 14- to 16-year-olds in September 2004.

The first cohort to sit GCSEs as a result of the new circumstances was in 2007, and any effect from the decision should have passed through the system by 2008.

However, this year saw a further 5.9 per cent decline in the take-up of French. “Without good staff, children are less likely to choose the subject as an option,” said Dr Dunford.

Meanwhile, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry has revealed that some businesses have lost contracts due to a lack of language skills among staff. Most employers wanted their staff to have conversational ability in a foreign language “to help break the ice with customers or suppliers and as part of wider cultural understanding”.

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Foreign Language Courses

Phyllis Korkki, “Foreign Language Courses, Brushing Up or Immersion,” NYTimes August 25, 2010:

THEY may be preparing for a vacation in Europe, trying to communicate with colleagues abroad or immigrant clients at home or unlocking the skills, learned in college, that have retreated to an inaccessible part of the brain. For those aiming to learn a foreign language, continuing education courses can lead people toward fluency — or at least help them get by.

These days, online programs and CDs like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are grabbing the interest of people attracted by their convenience and relatively low cost. But more schools are offering their own online-only language courses as part of extension programs.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, traditional, three-month language classes cost $480, and online classes cost $550. The online courses include video lectures, readings, exercises and assignments, which the instructors can correct and return to the student via e-mail. Students can practice with one another via chatrooms, and instructors and students can also talk on the phone to work on pronunciation, said Krista K. Loretto, program manager for U.C.L.A. Extension.

The biggest weakness of the online courses is the conversational element, Ms. Loretto said, although online students may soon be able to have real-time conversations thanks to technological advances.

The school also started offering combination online and classroom classes, which are especially helpful for those who have trouble making time for a class or live a long way from U.C.L.A., Ms. Loretto said.

Rosetta Stone, too, has gotten in on the classroom act. It does not consider itself a competitor, but rather a supplement to traditional language classes, said Cathy Quenzer, the company’s education director. It provides online courses for college instructors who want to augment their classroom lessons, she said. Students can learn through the program’s image-based format at their own pace at home, “and then come together to share and practice in the classroom,” she said.

There is no substitute for the traditional language class, with its emphasis on conversation and human interaction, said Florence Leclerc-Dickler, chairwoman of the foreign language department at the New School in New York and an assistant French professor.

Online-only courses are “good for people who are extremely self-disciplined,” Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said, comparing them to having a treadmill at home, whereas attending a class is like going to a gym.

The New School offers continuing education courses in 17 languages, with placement exams available for those not sure how far their rusty college skills will take them. French is by far the most popular language, which may reflect its cultural appeal as well as France’s popularity as a travel destination, Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said.

Spanish is second in popularity, with Arabic, German, Italian and Portuguese coming next in roughly similar numbers, she said. While the Tibetan course is offered less frequently, the one to be offered this fall is full, she said, as was the class in Nepali last spring.

Many classes meet once a week for an hour and 50 minutes and last 13 weeks, at a cost of $590. But Ms. Leclerc-Dickler recognizes that it can be hard for busy professionals to commit to a set time every week. That is why she also organizes weekend language immersion courses. These start on Friday evening and run through Sunday for a total of 14 hours, at a cost of $350.

Ellen Golub, a mortgage broker in Manhattan, took the weekend French class last spring a few weeks before her vacation in Paris. She called it “a crash course where you learn the basics.”

Though she did not come near to mastering French, she said the class, with its heavy emphasis on conversation, helped her feel more comfortable doing things like ordering food and navigating the Métro in Paris.

Professionals often take foreign language classes for personal reasons and enjoyment, Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said. But the needs of a global economy are also causing more people to learn languages for work-related purposes, Ms. Loretto said.

Being able to make a presentation in a foreign language, whether in person or through a teleconference, can give an English-speaking employee a serious edge, she said. Foreign languages are also very useful for workers who interact with immigrants, she said.

Ms. Loretto said Spanish had long been the most popular language at U.C.L.A. Extension, but she said that demand for Mandarin had been growing every year, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being neck and neck with Spanish in popularity.”

Extension offerings often reflect the needs of the surrounding community. Los Angeles has a large Korean population, and court officials have found Korean classes valuable in helping them to communicate with those who pass through the court system, Ms. Loretto said.

Valentina Zaitseva, who teaches at the University of Washington, has had among her students medical professionals who treat Seattle’s large Russian community.

In addition to traditional classes, she teaches a summer course that packs a year’s worth of Russian language study into two intensive months. Now she is teaching a summer interdisciplinary class in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, in partnership with Sochi State University.

Although many of her summer intensive students take her class to obtain credits toward a degree, some are professionals who may want to develop and maintain business contacts in Russia, she says — forming a contrast to others who mainly want to read authors likeDostoyevsky in the original Russian.

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School System Bucks Foreign Language Decline Trend

The Tulare school system in California promotes Spanish and Portuguese classes for its students. Here’s the story by Victor Garcia from The Visalia Times Delta, August 26, 2010:

Tulare high schools are bucking a trend when it comes to foreign-language classes.

Budget cuts and lack of demand for certain foreign-language offerings are forcing some area school districts to reconsider their language programs.

In Tulare, however, Spanish and Portuguese language classes are fuller than ever.

For at least eight years the Tulare Joint Union High School District has offered Portuguese rather than French at its three high schools.

“There’s always kids who want to take Spanish and Portuguese,” said Tony Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Tulare has a large Portuguese population. The district used to offer French, Rodriguez said, but cut the program because of lack of interest.

The district, which includes Tulare Western, Tulare Union and Mission Oak high schools, offers 67 Spanish classes and 17 Portuguese classes, Rodriguez said.

Dennis Borges, Tulare Union High School Portuguese teacher, said his classes are routinely filled to capacity. Portuguese enrollment at Tulare Union: 205.

“This year is a record,” he said. “I’ve always had 180 to 200 students.”

Most other school districts offer Spanish as the main foreign language, with French as an alternative choice. The Visalia Unified School District is phasing out its German program and Woodlake Union High School District may eliminate its French program, said Tim Hire, Woodlake Public Schools superintendent.

“We scaled [French] back to three years and are anticipating scaling it back to two years,” Hire said. “Unless the enrollment numbers pick up, it may be phased out completely.”

Woodlake tries to keep class sizes between 25 and 34 students.

This year officials combined their French II and III offerings to fill the classroom, Hire said.

Woodlake offered German until about 2000-01, Hire said.

“I think the same kind of thing happened,” he said. “The demand dwindled.”

Visalia Unified does not offer German at El Diamante High School and on Tuesday eliminated fourth-year German, until further notice, at its other high school campuses.

At the district more than 1,400 students take Spanish, 400 take French and 200 take German.

“We are trying to strengthen the [Spanish and French] offerings we have at the four high schools,” Wheaton said.

The Porterville Unified School District offers Spanish and French at all high schools and Chinese at Harmony Magnet Academy, a charter school.

“At the time it was established, we realized there’s incredible advantages from an international business standpoint to know and understand Chinese,” said John Snavely, Porterville Unified superintendent.

Dinuba Unified School District offers Spanish and French.

The California State University and University of California systems require incoming freshmen to have taken a minimum of two years of foreign language in high school.

No state law requires schools to offer a foreign language, Borges said, but their importance is obvious.

“In a global market,” he said, “you are going to be doing business with people who don’t speak your language.”

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Foreign Language Instruction in German Schools

I am reprinting an excellent article about foreign language instruction in German/European schools. The article (by Katja Hanke for The Goethe Institute) emphasizes the value of learning languages from an early age:

Foreign languages open doors to other cultures, to interesting vocations and to the hearts of people who speak a different language. Most people learn their first foreign language at school – much too late, say experts.

Every pupil in Europe should not learn just one, but two foreign languages. The European Parliament spoke out in favour of that at the beginning of last year, stating that multilingualism is one of Europe’s great potentials, and one that should be promoted more by European governments.

Foreign language instruction in Europe and Germany

In almost all European countries, pupils start to learn their first foreign language at the age of eight or nine. In Norway, Malta and Luxembourg they start as early as six and in German-speaking parts of Belgium and Spain already at the age of three. In contrast, pupils in Great Britain only come into contact with another language at the age of eleven.

“The best thing of all would be to start learning English at kindergarten.”  Photo: Cherissa Roebuck © iStockphotoIn Germany, the age at which pupils start to learn a foreign language depends on the Federal Land in which they live. Usually, it is at the age of eight, in year three, the European average. Some Federal Länder, such as Hesse, give pupils the opportunity to encounter a foreign language in voluntary classes from year one. The leading light in terms of foreign language instruction is North-Rhine/Westphalia. There, children take English from year one. The second foreign language, usually Spanish or French, is added throughout Germany in year 7.

Learning a language at kindergarten

“The best thing of all would be to start learning English at kindergarten,” says Professor Andreas Rohde of the English Department at the University of Cologne. He studies bilingual kindergartens and with the didactics of teaching English in primary schools. In contrast to school lessons, children at kindergarten experience the new language in everyday situations, such as when they have their breakfast, play or do craft work. They learn without any inhibitions, unconsciously and incidentally, just as they have already learned their mother tongue. That is unusual in Germany. There are some 700 bilingual kindergartens, most offering English or French. A group of children is usually supervised by two teachers, one of whom speaks German and the other the foreign language. “When the children start primary school, they already understand a great deal,” says Rohde, who is currently studying German-English kindergartens.

English dominates

“Children learn best when they can use the language outside the learning situation.” Photo: Melanie Kintz © iStockphotoProfessor Hans-Jürgen Krumm, Head of German as a Foreign Language at the University of Vienna, believes that children should already learn their first foreign language at kindergarten. But it should not be English. “Children learn best when they can use the language outside the learning situation,” he says. “If nobody around them speaks English, that is a bad experience for them.” According to Krumm, the playful introduction of one or two languages that the child can use with other children of the same age would be better, for example a language of migrants or the language of a neighbouring country. “Children should experience multilingualism at kindergarten and get enthusiastic about language,” says Krumm, who occupies himself a great deal with the didactics of foreign languages. “In the pop and internet age, you can start learning English at the age of eight or ten, when pupils need the language.” Krumm regards the fact that English is becoming the increasingly dominant foreign language that is taught throughout Europe as a barrier to the aim of multilingualism. “Countries that used to be paradigms of multilingualism, such as Norway, Finland and the Eastern European countries are now focusing more on English,” he says.

A poor knowledge of English

In spite of having intensive English lessons, German pupils have a relatively poor command of the language. Krumm sees one reason for this as being that the training of language teachers is too theoretical. “While there are nice ideas for lively classes, they are not common in practice,” he says and also criticises the fact that pupils lack contact with the foreign language. “They simply don’t need it in their everyday life.” That is different in Holland or the Scandinavian countries, where the inhabitants speak very good English. There, films and television programmes are shown in the original version with subtitles, rather than being dubbed, the usual practice in Germany. “That is an important factor for multilingualism,” says Krumm. “Watching television there is language immersion.”

Children learn without any inhibitions.  Photo: fatihhoca © iStockphotoAndreas Rohde believes that language can be learnt most efficiently not in class but in everyday situations. Bilingual kindergartens offer an opportunity to do so, as do school subjects taught through the medium of foreign languages. “In some German schools, one or two subjects, such as sport or art, are taught in English,” he says. That replaces language lessons. “Such forms are becoming more significant, but they are not used everywhere.” In most cases, they are the result of parent initiatives.

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