Monthly Archives: January 2011

Knowing Foreign Languages is Vital

Sarah Teyssen, an international political economy maj0r from Germany, studying at Fordham University, published her thoughts on the importance of foreign languages in Fordham University’s newspaper, The Ram (January 25, 2011).  I couldn’t agree with her more.   Here are her thoughts:


With government-subsidized public universities and private schools alike tightening their budgets, there seems to be agreement on the perfect area to make some deep cuts: foreign languages. For example, the State University of New York at Albany recently suspended majors in French, Italian and Russian. The high cost of the typically small and interactive course setup required to teach languages well, the long time period necessary to acquire proficiency and concerns about the relevance of “outdated” European languages like French or German all contribute to many schools cutting the availability of majors or even any coursework in many languages. And after all, the whole world speaks English anyway, right?

Even Fordham, a school that prides itself in preparing us for “leadership in a global society,” is no exception. The core curriculum does not require students earning a Bachelor of Science degree to pass an exit-level foreign language course. While it might make sense to lift the burden of up to five additional courses off of pre-med students and others looking for careers in mathematics or the natural sciences, the waiver also applies to those earning degrees in the Gabelli School of Business.

With GSB considering globalization one of its four areas of focus, the fact that its students do not need to learn any foreign language seems ironic. Yes, most of the world can communicate in English, but is that enough? If GSB students really aspire to form networks and business relations around the world, they will need to be able to connect with business partners on a deeper level than just being able to get ideas across. Everyone knows that if you order something in English in a restaurant abroad you will get your food, but if you make the effort to order in the local language, you will be greeted with an extra portion of admiration, friendliness and maybe even a free appetizer. In the business world, this might translate into having the competitive edge in a million-dollar contract. Many business students do understand that and the G.L.O.B.E concentration, the only GSB program requiring foreign language study, is becoming increasingly popular.

It seems relatively easy to convince business students of the importance of acquiring skills in languages such as Mandarin Chinese, especially as the economic power centers of the world are shifting so drastically. What about all those liberal arts majors who love to rant against Fordham’s huge core and especially the multi-course language requirement when they are not too busy complaining about the Caf food? Most cannot wait until they can concentrate on taking courses in their political science, history, philosophy, economics or communications majors and try to get the requirement out of the way by taking one or two courses in the language they already learned in high school, usually Spanish or French.

Of course there are general advantages to learning foreign languages, such as getting true insight into foreign cultures and realizing that the rest of the world does not in fact revolve around America, but in actuality there is no major, especially in the social sciences, that cannot be substantively enhanced by proficiency in a foreign language. Being able to read Rousseau, Aristotle, Kant and Marx in the original languages opens up a new world of meaning and true opportunity for scholarship and any relevant contemporary research in the social sciences will be severely limited if you cannot fully communicate with and thus truly grasp the background of those you are researching. For example, if you want to research the political issues that shape American politics today, Arabic and Farsi are invaluable; if you want to understand evolving economic forces, Hindi and Mandarin will certainly come in handy and anyone who wants to analyze current events will benefit from being able to read foreign news sources.

Studying foreign languages is essential and very relevant to almost all academic disciplines and certainly to those aiming for Bachelor of Arts and business degrees, but Fordham should require all of its students to study languages up to the exit level. Fordham is known for its core and for giving its students a structure that requires them to study those disciplines that Fordham deems essential for being an all-around educated person, such history and philosophy, and in no way can it be justified that foreign languages are excluded from this list. There might, however, be ways for making the large requirement more relevant and approachable to non-foreign language majors.  Lower credit options might make it easier to fit foreign language study into crammed schedules, pass-fail based courses would encourage those afraid of studying more challenging options and departments supporting the study of specific languages through counting them as electives to their majors might help. Come on Fordham, let students show the world that Americans do own passports and are prepared to be true leaders in a global society by respecting that there are in fact people who do not speak English.

Sarah Teyssen, FCRH ’13, is an international politcal economy major from Erding, Germany.



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Proposed Cuts to Foreign Language Classes at Middle School

Here we go again —

Article by Joe O’Connell for Milford Daily News, January 26, 2011:


Eliminating foreign language classes at Memorial Middle School is just one of a number of cuts principals proposed last night to meet a projected $750,000 deficit in the School Department’s fiscal ’12 budget.

The principals from the five schools presented their budget goals, as well as ways to save money, to the School Committee during a meeting in the high school auditorium.

“These budgets are preliminary,” said School Committee Chairwoman Cheryl Gray. “We are presenting the information now as a way to be transparent throughout the budget process.”

Middle School Principal Michael Lovecchio told the committee that cutting the school’s only foreign language teacher would save about $47,000, which would mean the end of foreign language classes.

That teacher currently teaches honors level Spanish and honors level French to 68 students as an elective.

“Ideally, I want to let every student in eighth grade have access to a foreign language class,” said Lovecchio. “If we are going to have a foreign language department, I want to do it right.”

Earlier in his presentation, Lovecchio said he would rather add a foreign language teacher than cut one. He presented a survey to the committee that showed Memorial Middle School is the only middle school in the region that has just one foreign language teacher.

The loss of foreign language classes in the middle school would also alter the classes students could take in high school. Currently, honors seventh- grade and eighth-grade students take the equivalent of half a year of Spanish I or French I.

They then go to the high school and are placed in Spanish II or French II, which ultimately allows them to take an AP language course later in their high school career.

If students cannot take a language in middle school, they would have to start high school in Spanish I or French I.

“I would be very concerned about it,” said Grace McDonald, the head of the world language department at the high school. “I would personally like you to consider not closing that program.”

At the elementary level, the principals proposed cutting $30,000 from the materials budget, which would force parents to buy school supplies, such as crayons, that are normally provided to students.

“It was a challenge,” said South Elementary Principal Kathryn Wilson. “At this point, we are not happy with the presentation we just gave you.”

Bellingham High School Principal Edward Fleury, who is proposing cutting a math teacher, foreign language teacher and English teacher, said budgeting only continues to get more difficult.

“If we have to go through another year like this, we might as well put names in a fish bowl and pick them from there because things are getting tight,” said Fleury.

Superintendent David Fischer stressed that the budget is still a work in progress, and he won’t have a better understanding of what the School Department’s deficit will be until Gov. Deval Patrick releases his budget, which he is expected to do today.

“We always plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Fischer. “Everything we do needs to support student learning.”

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Foreign Language Study Appreciated at Michigan State University

Students at Michigan State University seem to understand that foreign language study is a window to the world.

Article by Megan Durisin, “Foreign Language Study becomes increasingly important for students in globalized world,”, January 22, 2011:

It was Dan Redford’s third summer studying in China, but this time, his skills were being put to the test at the global level.

Redford worked as a student ambassador at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, helping to coordinate Chinese officials’ visits to the U.S. Pavilion, a building used during the expo to showcase American innovations. It was an exhibit that attracted nearly 50,000 visitors a day as part of a record-setting fair. And Redford said it was difficult to describe how busy the exhibit became.

“It’s really unimaginable how packed it was,” he said.

More than 73 million people visited the site during six months to peruse arenas from countries around the world.

Redford was responsible for coordinating visits to the U.S. building from Chinese party leaders and government officials and had the chance to give a tour of the expo to Derek Fisher from the Los Angeles Lakers.

But one of his favorite parts was seeing just how surprised the Chinese visitors were that he could speak their language — and fluently, at that.

“They were almost always surprised — it was really cool,” said Redford, a 2010 alumnus who graduated with a degree in international relations and Chinese. “A lot of the other countries didn’t have in-house native people that could speak Chinese.”

Foreign craze
Redford is one of a growing number of undergraduate students studying foreign languages outside of the traditional norms.

Although the number of undergraduate students taking foreign language classes at universities nationwide stayed steady from 2006-09, the variety of languages they studied continued to climb, and Chinese is growing at one of the highest rates, according to a December 2010 survey by the Modern Language Association of America.

Redford’s interest in the language came after studying globalization during his freshman year in James Madison College.

When his friend signed up for a Chinese course sophomore year, he decided to join.

“Everywhere across the world, everyone has to learn a second language,” Redford said. “It’s a way of learning how the world works that America unfortunately has not been exposed to.”

According to the MLA survey, students studying Chinese jumped 18.2 percent from 2006-09 among undergraduates in the U.S. The numbers are second only to Arabic, which posted gains of more than 46 percent. Spanish and French — the two languages that have the highest numbers of enrolled students — both grew about 5 percent, continuing to show their popularity.

“The figures of Chinese students coming here are huge,” Redford said. “The task of our generation is about learning those languages.”

Job asset
Although some students stray from majoring in a foreign language because the degrees immediately don’t lead to high-paying jobs, knowing another language can serve as a support skill for many different professions, said Tom Lovik, chair of the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages.

“Students are getting the message that languages are important for future occupations, and the majors on campus are recognizing the value of languages,” he said.

When applying for positions in companies in the southern U.S., fluency in Spanish can be a big boost, said Kelley Bishop, executive director of Career Services. Worldwide, in areas with rising economies, such as South America and China, knowing a foreign language also can give students a big leg up with businesses that have a presence there, Bishop said.

Besides the speaking skills themselves, learning a foreign language gives students a respect for other cultures they might not gain otherwise, he said.

“Employers have been telling us this loud and clear: If you’re not interculturally competent, we’re not going to be able to hire you,” Bishop said.

Most employers will not turn a graduate away who is not fluent in another language, but some recruiters and government agencies come to campus specifically to find students with unique language abilities — especially ones studying less commonly taught languages, or LCTLs, Bishop said.

The number of students in LCTL programs grew by 24 percent from the fall of 2006 to the fall of 2010, said LCTL Coordinator Danielle Steider. The variety of languages also increased from 11 to 15 during that time, now including Korean, Hindi, Indonesian, Thai, Persian, Turkish and a variety of African languages, she said.

There are many motivations for students to study these languages: Some have a personal or academic interest in a country; others want to pursue government or military careers; and some like the small class size and individual attention available for the languages, Steider said.

Government funding for these more obscure languages also has increased, giving universities the ability to offer more LCTLs, she said.

“With the increase in publicity about the language crisis the country is facing, more students are thinking about other languages as options,” Steider said in an e-mail.

Middle Eastern interest
Students studying Arabic also have seen a boom at MSU, tripling from 59 students studying Arabic in 1999 to more than 193 students last semester, said Anne Baker, assistant director of the MSU Arabic Language Flagship Instruction program.

The surge began after Sept. 11 and the media storm that followed when the U.S. government realized it did not have enough members who spoke critical languages, including Arabic, Baker said.

“It’s clearly related to national security, but there are a lot of other benefits related to economics and global competitiveness that come with learning Arabic,” she said.

The Flagship program was designed in 2007 to teach students to speak Arabic at the professional level and currently has about 40 students enrolled, Baker said.

Before completion, the program requires students to study and intern for a fall and spring semester in Alexandria, Egypt, she said.

“A lot of students reach proficiency after four years, but it’s a big jump to go from the advanced level to the superior level,” Baker said. “Students really need that experience overseas.”

Rakeena Barnes, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies in social science and international studies, joined the program her freshman year, excited about the specialized, smaller classes and getting the chance to study a language outside of the Latin script.

Although the Arabic letters look very different than what Americans are used to and Barnes didn’t have a Middle Eastern background, she said the language is a lot like math: There are rules for everything — they just have to be followed.

“The exclusivity I’d say makes it more exciting,” Barnes said. “When it comes to one culture that most Americans don’t really know or misunderstands, (it’s) Arabs.”

Barnes said she hopes to spend time overseas after she graduates and possibly teach English as a second language later on.

The U.S. is militarily involved in the Middle East, and more people are becoming interested in learning Arabic — but for now, Barnes said she still feels like she’s part of a small group.

“I feel like I’m one in a million,” she said.

Spanish going strong
Though Arabic studies might be on the rise, enrollments in Spanish nationwide still top all other languages combined, said Emily Spinelli, executive director of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

College students studying Portuguese also are climbing, primarily, because Brazil’s economy is one of the top 10 in the world, she said.

Dominique Sanchez, a Spanish and human biology junior, said she decided to study Spanish after studying it all throughout high school.

“I know Spanish will be really helpful in my future career as a doctor… if I have patients who only speak Spanish or need to travel to Spanish-speaking countries for work,” she said.

Foreign languages go in and out of popularity, Spinelli said. In 1900, the most popular language to study was Latin. The economy and national security all play a role in what languages college students decide to study, she said.

“If you listen to what’s happening in Washington, D.C., as well as at the state level, there are an increasing number of people talking about the importance of learning a foreign language in the 21st century,” Spinelli said. “Whether or not they put money behind it is another question.”

Colleges and universities across the country have been faced with foreign language department cuts, closings and mergers in recent years, according to the MLA.

At MSU, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese merged with the Department of French, Classics and Italian earlier this year, forming the Department of Romance and Classical Studies. The two departments originally had been one before 2003, but administrators decided to bring the departments back together last year, citing reasons including reducing administrative costs and increasing collaboration.

“It was a noble experiment that … didn’t work as hoped,” said Provost Kim Wilcox at an October meeting of the Executive Committee of Academic Council.

Once the Wells Hall addition is complete, the department will move there, close to the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages.

MSU’s commitment to foreign language continues to be strong, emphasized by its leading status in study abroad programs nationwide, Lovik said.

“Our approach to teaching is more practical and has helped to avoid some of the wrenching closures other institutions have had to take,” he said.

Using the language
MSU also receives a growing number of students from abroad. The number of students from the Middle East grew from 165 in 2007 to 309 in 2010, and students from Asia grew even further, from 2,829 in 2007 to nearly 4,200 in 2010.

It’s numbers such as those that have kept Redford in the Lansing area, putting his Chinese degree to good use.

He now serves as the director of the China Creative Space for the Gillespie Group, working on plans to create a Chinese community center near Chandler Crossings. The space will serve to help Chinese students meet professionals in the area and become more integrated in the community, he said. Over time, he hopes it will grow into a “living village,” complete with a Chinese market, grocery store and restaurant.

“People in the Lansing area are just like anyone else — they want to become more global,” Redford said.



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UK Government Encourages Foreign Language Learning

After criticism by members of Parliament and educational boards, it seems that the UK is ready to recognize its foreign language deficiencies in the schools and make changes.  But, are the new goals the solution?  Story by Tim Castle for Reuters, January 12, 2011:

The government published revised school performance tables in England on Wednesday to try to boost the number of teenagers studying foreign languages, but teachers attacked them as meaningless.

Gove said the new rating would add breadth and depth to the performance tables, which have been criticised for distorting teaching priorities and encouraging schools to game the system.

“This is just shining a light on the system,” Gove said.

“I hope it will spark a debate about which subjects we should be concentrating on,” he added.

Many schools in poorer catchment areas had entered their pupils for less-academic vocational subjects which at one point each counted in the tables for as much as four GCSE exams.

In Wednesday’s tables many state-funded schools with strong ratings for the proportion of students achieving good grades in English and maths sank down the rankings once marked against the wider English baccalaureate test.

Just 16 percent of pupils in England qualified for the baccalaureate measure, compared to 54 percent meeting the existing English and maths target.


The number of students taking exams in foreign languages has plummeted since the former Labour government made it optional to study such subjects at GCSE level, taken by pupils aged 16.

Education Secretary Michael Gove hopes to spark a revival in language learning with a new ranking that judges schools by the number of pupils doing well in GCSE exams in five specified subjects including a foreign language.

Teachers said the new measure, only announced in draft government legislation last November and after last summer’s exams season, was retrospective and meaningless.

They said it would unfairly rank schools which had been concentrating on meeting the existing government targets in English and maths GCSE exam performance.

“You can’t have schools judged against criteria that were not previously in place,” said National Union of Teachers leader Christine Blower.

“This will significantly disadvantage some schools, as they will not have been geared up to doing, for instance, a modern language,” she added.

The new ranking is a broader measure, dubbed by Gove the “English baccalaureate,” that rates schools by the number of pupils who get good marks at GCSE in a foreign language, a science, and history or geography, as well as in English and maths.



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Educators Lobby for Future Foreign Language Studies

Karen Forman for the Dix Hills Dispatch, January 17, 2011:

A group of foreign language scholars met in Hauppauge last Friday to discuss the future of foreign language education in New York State.

The Foreign Language Association of Chairpersons and Supervisors (FLACS) drew attention in late November after its leaders said they would work to create foreign language proficiency exams after the state axed all middle school exams and several Regents exams at the high school level.

On Friday in the Hauppauge Public Schools Administrative Offices, FLACS convened an all-star panel of speakers, who made clear that in an ever-diverse society, cutting back on foreign language education makes little sense.

“They always talk about global education, but without foreign languages?” asked Carmen Klohe, an associate professor of languages and literature at St. John’s University. “I don’t get it. The American ambassador to Spain does not speak a word of Spanish. It made me embarrassed to be an American.”

Sarah Jordain, director of the Foreign Language Teacher Preparation Program at Stony Brook University put forth the idea that children should be learning foreign languages earlier, way before middle school.

“Students need to start foreign languages earlier and continue them longer,” Jordain said. “And we need to broaden our offerings; we need more choices, not less. Language teachers should be certified for K-12 not 7-12, as they are now.”

She also suggested that teachers become proficient in one of the more commonly spoken languages, such as Spanish or Italian, and also in one of the less proficient languages, such as Latin, since it’s become difficult to find quality Latin teachers.

Teachers and students should be going abroad more often than they do now, Jordain said, before adding that the funding for this would have to come from private grants, since the money was no longer available to support such endeavors at the federal level.

Spencer Ross, president of the National Institute for World Trade, said: “Not that long ago, the U.S. used to be number one in the world. Our products used to be number one in the world. Now the world has changed. Most of the consumer products are no longer made in the U.S. Most are made in Asia.

“We need to speak the language of the rising economy and speak it fluently,” added Ross, whose career in international trade spans 50 years. “We need to learn Mandarin, Hindu, Korean, etc. and these languages are not even taught in our schools. On job applications now, they ask how many foreign languages you speak.”

He agreed that students should start learning languages in kindergarten, so that they can speak them fluently by the time they go to college, and also concurred that we need to find funding sources.

Ross added that the United States is now only 4 percent of the world’s population.

“So 96 percent is outside of our market,” he said. “We’re not equipped to deal with the rising economies of the world. This is a new reality. We need to capture those foreign markets.”

Carmen Campos, president of FLACS, agreed.

“We have to realize it’s not just the three Rs anymore-there is a fourth R: reality,” said Campos, head of the foreign language department with the Cold Spring Harbor School District. “The reality of the world we live in today. We can’t expect the world to speak only English anymore.”



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More on Foreign Language Decline in Schools

Story by Karen Ann Cullotta for The Chicago Tribune, January 18, 2011:

Despite budget cuts to foreign language programs at many U.S. schools, the study of Mandarin has jumped by almost 200 percent in three years, according to a recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Still, the study also found that just 32 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 nationwide are enrolled in a foreign language program, leaving the U.S. behind many countries. (In the European Union, for example, 94 percent of secondary level students study a language other than their native tongue.)

Indeed, educators often are making tough decisions these days — for example, opting to add new languages such as Mandarin and Arabic while scaling back on more traditional linguistic stalwarts. Some foreign language advocates view this as a troubling trend.

“I categorically reject the notion expressed by anybody who is cutting languages like German and French, and implying they are not essential,” said Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, based in Alexandria, Va. “Our country is in the grips of short-term thinking that has spilled over from corporate leaders. We do long-term damage to both our country and our children when we whipsaw between what languages are important, because language learning lasts a lifetime.”

Lovejoy said that if the U.S. does not address its “language deficit,” it will be at an overwhelming disadvantage with respect to its economy and national security.

The influx of Chinese language programs that debuted during the last three years, while noteworthy, added up to only 60,000 studying Mandarin nationwide.

Still, Mandarin language teachers such as Grace Chang Heebner are encouraged by the burgeoning popularity of Chinese language programs in the U.S.

“Parents are encouraging their children to learn the language so they can prepare for future jobs,” said Chang Heebner, who teaches at Westlane Middle School in Indianapolis. “Having the chance to share my language and culture has been an amazing opportunity.”

Foreign favorites

The top four foreign languages taught in grades K-12 of U.S. public schools for the 2007-08 school year:

Spanish: 72.1 percent

French: 14.1 percent

German: 4.4 percent

Latin: 2.3 percent

Source: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages


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Russia Wants Its Officials to Speak Another Foreign Language

Here’s an interesting article (written by Tom Parfitt for The Telegraph, January 14, 2011) about the need for multilingual government officials in Russia:


It was a moment of acute humiliation for the Russian Academy of Sciences.

When the learned body produced an English language version of its website last year, the results caused a stir. The Institut Belka (Institute of Protein Research) was translated as the Squirrel Institute (Institut Belki), while Yury Osipov, the mathematician who heads the academy, was introduced to foreign colleagues as the President of Wounds.

Now the Russian government is moving to address such linguistic shortcomings by multiplying the number of polyglot officials. A strategy document unveiled this week says that by 2020, at least 20% of workers in state service must be fluent in a foreign tongue. More importantly, from next year all newly recruited bureaucrats should already be competent in English.

It’s the latest sign of a subtle trend: although Russia has a difficult relationship with the English-speaking world, when it comes to speaking English it is a different matter. English vocabulary has already made deep forays into Russian. In Moscow, for example, tineydzhery (teenagers) might go to a mall to shopitsya, depending on the dress-kod of the klub they’re heading for. Many of the words in use spring from recently acquired financial and business terms that were unknown in Soviet times, such as steyk-kholdery (stakeholders), autsorsing (outsourcing), riteyl (retail) and franchayz (franchise).

The computer-friendly younger generation, meanwhile, knows all about apgrady (upgrades), fayrvoly (firewalls) and kiberskvoting (cybersquatting).

Yury Alekseyev, a professional linguist and the president of a “terminological committee” which issues recommendations for usage of foreign-origin words said he welcomed the effort to increase multilingual bureaucrats. “I’d also like to see a more qualified defence of the Russian language from the influence of English,” he added. Russians collectively winced when their sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, gave a brave but heavily accented speech in English at Russia’s World Cup bid in Zurich last month. Nearly a million viewers have shared his pain by watching the clip, called “Let mi spik from may khart, in Inglish”, on YouTube.

Alekseyev’s committee sends reports to universities, businesses and media outlets urging them to weed out the more vulgar anglicisms. “We are trying to give people the choice to use a Russian word, with Russian roots,” he said. “Many Anglicisms have unpleasant or misleading associations. Take the word gadzhet [gadget]. The word gad in Russian means a reptile, or something foul, dirty. So it’s much better to just use the Russian word pribor, or shtuchka.”

Similarly, say conservatives, the ubiquitous word boss can be expressed perfectly adequately with its Russian equivalent, nachalnik, and resepshn (reception) with priomnaya.

A backlash against anglicisation gathered pace last year when the federal anti-monopoly service stepped up efforts to stamp out foreign words in advertising. By law, trademarks can be displayed in languages other than Russian, but any advertising material without a translation is deemed illegal – unless a transliteration can be found in a dictionary.

“If we’re talking about words with English origins that are already widely used in stock market slang like broker, fyuchers and auktsion than those are fine, otherwise we would end up returning to the language of the Russian Empire,” said Andrei Kashevarov, deputy head of the anti-monopoly service.

Beyond that, even using a couple of foreign words can get a business in trouble. In November the service brought cases against Yaposhka City, the owner of a Japanese sushi chain which displaying a billboard saying Happy New Menu. A sportswear store was brought to book for using the phrase “new collection” while a café was censured for using the word “Halloween”.

The absorption of foreign words may be inevitable, admits Alekseyev. “We can make recommendations as much we like, but in the end the language chooses its own path,” he said.



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