Monthly Archives: December 2010

Bill to End Early Foreign Language Classes in Stalls

From, December 30, 2010:

A proposal to end state-mandated early foreign language instruction has stalled.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee failed to sponsor the measure in a 7-7 tie vote recently.

A state law passed in 1999 requires schools to teach foreign language in kindergarten through second grade.

Some schools have embraced the effort but others say finding qualified teachers is a challenge and question whether it’s a good use of resources.

Republican state Rep. Matt Teeters of Lingle had requested the law be repealed until a thorough, complete foreign language program can be built.

A bill to extend the program through sixth grade and provide funding failed in 2004.


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New Jersey Language Programs Falter

Budget cuts throughout New Jersey continue to hamper foreign language education in the schools. Instead of trained language teachers, school systems are implementing foreign language programs like Rosetta Stone and Muzzy.  Unfortunately, those programs cannot be substitutes for language teachers.

The following article by Patricia Alex from, December 30, 2010, explains the crisis:

The push to teach foreign languages in New Jersey’s elementary schools appears to be faltering as schools cope with budget cuts.

Several districts this year dropped elementary world language teachers from their roster and instead have opted for less labor-intensive alternatives. Some have asked regular classroom teachers to take over, and others are resorting to videos and computer programs to pick up the slack. In Bloomingdale, trustees are mulling a plan to solicit volunteers to help with instruction.

“It’s a matter of what you can prioritize and what you can afford,” said James Montesano, superintendent of schools in Paramus, which uses Muzzy, the BBC interactive language instruction video program, in the elementary schools.

The state mandate – introduced in 1996 – calls for districts to introduce world language study in the early grades, but does not call for full-blown language programs such as those required in high school.

For most time-strapped districts, the elementary instruction has consisted of a 30-minute session, usually Spanish, once or twice a week with a dedicated language teacher. Some experts say that formula is ineffective because of its brevity. But now, even that is being reduced as districts cope with steep declines in aid from Trenton.

Glen Rock cut its elementary Spanish teacher last year, and instead has classroom teachers integrate elements of world culture into other coursework, said Kathleen Regan, curriculum director.

“There were not only challenges with money and finances, but with time,” Regan said. “We want to focus on reading, writing and math, and then science and social studies. You’ll find a lot of districts establishing those priorities.”

Indeed, many districts emphasize subjects that are tested by the state; world languages are not.

However, Regan said that Glen Rock is now considering purchasing a computer-based course by Rosetta Stone.

Ridgewood went the Rosetta Stone route a few years ago, eliminating its three elementary world language teachers and buying the software for a one-time cost of $62,500, said curriculum director Regina Botsford.

“It’s always best to have a teacher, but we had to think of other options,” Botsford said. “When you have severe budget constraints, you have to look at creative solutions.”

She said Rosetta Stone, which requires individual headsets and microphones, allows students to move at their own pace.

Dumont switched to Muzzy this year, after budget cuts forced it to cut back on language teachers. The kid-friendly video program is directed by the classroom teacher and is more cost-effective than Rosetta Stone, which requires a computer lab, said curriculum director Maria Poidomani.

“It’s not as rich as having a classroom teacher, but it’s being well received by the students,” said Poidomani.

It’s a trend that is troubling to some language experts. Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said Rosetta Stone and other programs don’t come close to replicating a dedicated language teacher.

“There is clearly research that says it does not work. You need a dynamic environment with other learners to learn a language,” Lovejoy said. He and others lament that young students are not being more fully immersed in another language.

Englewood, with the help of federal money, has daily immersion and dual language programs for young students in Spanish and Mandarin.

“Immersing a child in another language enhances brain cells,” said Elizabeth Willaum, interim assistant superintendent. “It makes you sharper and smarter academically.”

But the Englewood programs are the exception rather than the rule, and some districts continue to struggle to provide rudimentary language instruction for elementary students.

In Pompton Lakes, a last-minute retirement allowed the district to save the job of its full-time Spanish teacher, Matt Mansbach, who splits his time between the two elementary schools. He spends 30 minutes a week with each class.

“Is it a perfect situation? No. We’re fooling ourselves if we think they are learning a language in 30 minutes a week,” said Michael Petrella, curriculum director. “But I do think we are giving them some exposure to the language and culture.”


Click here for more news from: Dumont, Englewood, Paramus, Ridgewood, Bloomingdale,Pompton Lakes,

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Efforts at Building Multilingualism in America

The following is from, December 18, 2010:

Ms. Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), told Radio86 about the recent efforts in the United States to encourage its young citizens to learn foreign languages.

In the past, people in the United States, a relatively isolated country both geographically and culturally, have not seen much point in learning foreign languages. As a result, foreign language requirements in American schools have been quite minimal. In the 1990’s, for example, a student in middle school was typically only expected to take one six-week course of a foreign language. In high school, the requirement was often only two semesters of Spanish, German or French, which is nowhere enough to make a learner proficient in the languages in question.

Abbott, who is a former high school teacher of Spanish and Latin, worked as the foreign language coordinator in the Fairfax County public school district prior to working for ACTFL. Thus, she has valuable insight into the shortfalls as well as the potential of the foreign language programs in American schools.


A terrifying wake-up call


The events of Sept 11, 2001 were a shocking reminder of how national boundaries cannot prevent foreign terrorists from penetrating American soil. Abbott says that, in addition to scarring the minds of every American for the rest of their lives, the day also marked a kind of a turning point for American politics on many levels, including its national policies on foreign language education.

“There is a change in interest. It’s mostly coming from two areas, I would say: First of all, at the federal or national level, certainly in the area of national interest and national security. We realized on September 11th, 2001 that we were caught really short in terms of our linguistic capabilities and that that was a serious linguistic gap in this country, and so, since then, there’s been an effort on the part of the federal government to upgrade our ability and capability in the area of knowing other languages and understanding other cultures. We’re certainly not where we need to be at this point, but there at least is interest and talk and funding behind some programs that will try to boost those capabilities.”

Parents of children adopted from China have been pushing for more Chinese language education in American schools. (Image: Radio86)
Parents of children adopted from China have been pushing for more Chinese language education in American schools. (Image: Radio86)The terrible events of September 11 were not the only catalyst for improving foreign language education in the US. Parents of school-aged children have also been actively pushing for schools to offer their children more comprehensive foreign language programs. Nevertheless, Abbott says that there is still a long way to go before all students in American schools would be required to learn a foreign language.

“We see a lot of interest on the part of parents of younger children. I know that when they look at the future of their children and they think about what the world is going to look like for those children as they enter the workforce and how important it’s going to be to be able to do business and to build relationships with people around the world, they have started to demand that the elementary schools teach languages. I feel it’s kind of a bottom-up, grassroots effort, on the part of parents, but then there’s this top-down effort on the federal level as well.”


PISA says it all


The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardized assessment of the proficiencies of students in various subjects in more than 70 countries and economies. The results of the survey give an indication of the strengths and shortfalls of public school systems around the globe. In terms of foreign languages, countries with more than one official language tend to perform better in the assessment, compared to monolingual countries such as the US.

“We came in, I think 26th or 27th. Certainly the top ten nations have that multilingualism or some kind of language requirement for students in school, so we’re using those results to point to how important those benefits are to students who get that early start in languages, the cognitive benefits and also the benefit of increasing academic achievement.”

As the demand for foreign language teaching grows, measures have been taken to encourage college students to study to become teachers.

“(One) way that the federal government is trying to boost our language capabilities and that is to have loan forgiveness for students who enter college and declare that they want to become teachers of languages. So, there are scholarships available for students who want to go in that direction and that’s an area we also know we need to work on.”


Forays into new languages


Due to the proximity and influence of Latin American culture, the leading foreign language in the US has always been Spanish.

“At the K12 level, Spanish is certainly the leading language, it always has been. Of the students enrolled in languages about 72 percent are enrolled in Spanish. Then there’s a big drop to the next language, which is French, where we have about 14 percent of our students enrolled. The next one is German with 4.43 percent and then Latin, 2.3 percent. So those are our top four languages. Spanish, French, German and Latin. And then we see other languages, certainly on the rise is Chinese, Mandarin, and we’re seeing a lot more students and a lot more schools interested in teaching Mandarin , they’re looking at the next great competitive economy and I believe that China has gotten so much press about being that economy that we’re seeing schools attempting to expand their language offerings and Chinese is probably the number one language that they’re adding.”


We are a monolingual country – that’s something that we’re trying to change – but historically, our interest in specific languages has come about from perceived challenges to the US economy, or real challenges to the US economy.Marty Abbott

Contrary to what most people might think, Chinese is not a completely new addition to the language selection in American schools.


“We have some history of that at a very minimal aspect beginning really in the 80s even, but very very small. It really started almost in the year 2002, 2003, we started to see more interest in Chinese, and really it’s been in the past three to four years where we’ve seen the big boom. That’s been also associated with a lot of interest on the part of the Chinese government in promoting Chinese in this country. We see a lot of support from Hanban, the Chinese Ministry of Education and their efforts to promote Chinese as well – that has certainly had an impact.”

While Chinese used to be mostly taught in schools on the west coast, where most of the Chinese immigrants to the US were living, its popularity has grown to encompass the entire country, both urban and rural areas included. This is explained both by the interest American-born descendants of Chinese immigrants have for the language, but also by the interest of parents of children adopted from China, Abbott says.

“But what’s really been interesting is how students of all abilities and interests have kind of taken to Chinese and really become interested in it. I think it’s different enough that students feel that it’s challenging and engaging. One area of critical importance is how doable learning this language is by English speakers. I think that where we have successful programs you’ll find teachers who are making this very doable for students. And so, we have students increasing their proficiency at a rate that you would find very interesting because people look at Chinese as a challenging language to learn.”

According to official statistics from 2007-2008, enrollment in Chinese had grown in almost all states in the US, giving a strong indication of the popularity of the Chinese language among students.

“We are a monolingual country – that’s something that we’re trying to change – but historically, our interest in specific languages has come about from perceived challenges to the US economy, or real challenges to the US economy. For example, in the late 50s, when the Russians launched Sputnik, and we thought we were losing the ‘space race,’ the federal government provided a lot of support for learning Russian. So there was a proliferation of Russian programs around the United States. And then in the 80s, when the Japanese economy was so strong, we saw the same thing happen with Japanese programs and a lot of interest on the part of the Japanese government because their economy was so strong. I think we’re seeing similar things with Chinese in the 21st century. We’re seeing that people are reading about China, they’re learning about China through events like the Olympics in 2008, and they’re thinking – ‘wow, if I want to be competitive in the 21st century, I better understand the languages of the people that we’re going to be working with, we’re going to be selling our products to, we’re going to be negotiating with,’ and so I think people are thinking it’s really the current language to be proficient in.”


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Rep. Judy Chu Promotes Foreign Language Study

Representative Judy Chu (a Democrat from California) supports the idea of multilingualism and offers a personal example on its importance.  We need to support people like Rep. Chu. Her response was printed in The Hill (September 15, 2010:

Yesterday, President Obama gave his second annual back-to-school address.  In a speech to students at Julia R. Masterman School in Philadelphia, he urged them to take responsibility, work hard and dream big.

The words that really stood out to me, however, came at the end of his remarks when he said, “I want you to take away the notion that life is precious, and part of what makes it so wonderful is its diversity, that all of us are different.” I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, the current system too often limits our students’ exposure to other cultures and languages. If we’re to fully embrace life’s wonderful diversity, this must change.

About a year ago, the President set a goal for our country to reclaim the highest college graduation rate in the world. It’s a worthy goal and one I strongly support, but it’s not enough. We don’t just need college graduates. We need college graduates ready to compete on the world’s stage.

Years ago, my mother immigrated to America at the age of 19, right before our country prohibited travel to China. For the next 25 years, she had virtually no contact with her family. But what isolated her even more was her inability to use English. Until she went to an adult education program to learn her second language, she never fully integrated into American society.

Today, the lack of a second language doesn’t just isolate people. It makes them less competitive. There’s a Spanish proverb that says, “The person who speaks two languages is worth two.” And that’s why neglecting foreign language instruction prevents students from realizing their full worth.

Lacking international knowledge and experience, many of today’s young Americans aren’t prepared for the increasingly global economy of tomorrow. This shortcoming limits our ability to address future international challenges. It restrains our relationships with other nations and could someday threaten our national security.

Moreover, studies show that learning a second language improves cognitive flexibility. Because dual language learners naturally consider multiple meanings for words, they’re better able to manage complex situations. And that’s a skill our next generation of supervisors and executives can all use.

That’s why legislation that creates a multilingual society is so important. These programs don’t just promote a second language; they advance the American workforce. Unfortunately, current instruction in our country lags behind our global competitors’. In Asia and Europe, the question is not whether you speak another language – it’s how many.

That’s why I strongly support the Providing Resources to Improve Dual Language Education (PRIDE) Act, which establishes and expands language programs in classrooms across the country, closing this gap. And since children more easily absorb foreign languages than older students and adults, I’ll soon introduce the Global Languages Early Education (GLEE) Act to focus funds on early education. Because, developing our youngest minds is the best path toward increased fluency now and improved competitiveness later.

I’ll be pushing for a greater focus on foreign and dual-language programs in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and I encourage all of my colleagues to support this effort.

Promoting multilingualism in our nation’s schools ensures that the next generation of American students won’t just travel the globe, they’ll shape it.

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Fellowships for Teachers of Arabic and Chinese

Thanks to Alena Palevitz for sending me the following important information to pass along to all interested foreign language teachers of Arabic and Chinese:

American Councils for International Education is pleased to announce that the application for the Intensive Summer Language Institutes has been posted online. This program provides fully funded fellowships for U.S. classroom teachers to spend six weeks overseas studying intermediate and advanced-level Arabic and Chinese in Egypt and Mainland China. The Intensive Summer Language Institutes are funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and administered by American Councils for International Education. The program is open to current K-12 teachers and community college instructors of Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, as well as to students enrolled in education programs preparing them to teach these languages. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and non-native speakers of Arabic and Chinese in order to qualify. To apply, please visit

Program Dates:
June 21-August 6, 2011

Program Benefits:
-Intensive language training
-Peer tutors
-Cultural enrichment activities and excursions
-Ten hours of graduate credit through Bryn Mawr College
-Pre-departure orientation
-Full-time resident director
-Room and board
-Books and shipping allowance
-Visa fees and travel insurance
-International and U.S. domestic airfare

Application Deadline:
March 4, 2011

For more information, please contact Alena Palevitz at

Alena Palevitz
Program Officer, Teacher Programs,
Arabic and Chinese Intensive Summer Language Institutes
American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS
1828 L Street, NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: 202.833.7522
Fax: 202.833.7523
Web:; and


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A Pro-Foreign Language Learning Editorial

Like me, Michael Poliakoff agrees that foreign languages are well worth learning and protecting. Here are his comments that were published in The Buffalo News, December 19, 2010:

“If you speak three languages, you’re trilingual; if you speak two, you’re bilingual; and if you speak only one language, you’re American.” So goes the saying.

We pay a dear price in national security and diplomacy for our ignorance of foreign languages. That lesson of the 1958 best seller “The Ugly American” is as true today as it was half a century ago. Foreign language study is the foundation for humanistic study and true multicultural understanding. And foreign language instruction prepares students to navigate the volatile global job market.

As CIA Director Leon Panetta recently pointed out, higher education’s weak standards are the cause of America’s linguistic ignorance. In the What- survey of core curricula, only one in three of leading institutions required even intermediate level foreign language proficiency. Hardly any required a fourth semester of language study. In the words of Panetta: “We need to get back to mandating language training as a requirement for graduating from college.”

Panetta’s message comes just when colleges are running in the wrong direction. Several schools have announced plans to reduce or eliminate their foreign language requirement. Others cut departments and majors. The University of Southern California announced the end of its German major in 2008. Louisiana State jettisoned its majors in German and Latin and terminated instruction in other languages. Flagship universities in Maine and Nevada are following suit. And the University at Albany has announced the termination of majors in French, Italian, Russian and Classical Studies.

Foreign language programs typically have low enrollments and few majors. They are academically demanding, requiring disciplined acquisition of linguistic skills. They don’t have the attraction of trendier programs or plain, old gut courses. In a world where credit-hour generation counts for survival, they perish.

Colleges have two good strategies to use. The first, and most important, is to develop consortia of small programs. As language programs crash around the nation, some prevail together. In Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, four campuses use interactive video to share faculty in French, German, Spanish and Russian: the collaboration freed resources for new courses in Arabic and Chinese. This works at the graduate level, too. Eight University of North Carolina campuses formed a German Studies Consortium that shares resources. Duke University and University of North Carolina formed a public-private partnership for a joint graduate program in German. Every college campus does not need a full complement of senior professors to service the students majoring in foreign languages. Through resource sharing, they can ensure rich opportunities for the prudent students who recognize the value of advanced language study. Such cost-effective collaboration makes far better sense than terminating a language major.

The second strategy is to eliminate fluff courses. As foreign language programs go to the guillotine, cash-strapped college administrators rarely consider that some popular programs contribute only minimally to students’ cognitive growth. Recent studies by the Social Science Research Council note that two favorite academic programs, teacher education and communication, do little to increase students’ overall problem-solving abilities. Swear off educational “junk food.” Use funds for college priorities.

Few institutions can continue to offer their own programs in every academic discipline. Raising students’ tuition in lieu of reducing the budget is not an ethically defensible option. But strong academic leadership can restructure foreign language programs cost-effectively, ensuring the resources for intermediate level language proficiency for every undergraduate, and, through collaboration with peer institutions, the opportunity for students to complete a rich language major.

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Chinese to be Introduced as a Foreign Language in Indian Schools

Story from, December 16, 2010:

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday welcomed a decision by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) of India to introduce Chinese as a foreign language in the curriculum of schools in India from the next academic session.

In a joint communique issued after bilateral discussions at Hyderabad House here, Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing will offer support for training Chinese language teachers and would provide Chinese language training material.

Both sides also declared the establishment of the India-China Outstanding College Students Exchange Programme, and said they would work out the modalities of the programme through consultations.

To facilitate and strengthen intercollegiate and studentexchanges, the two countries agreed to consider the finalization of an agreement on mutual recognition of degrees and diplomas.

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