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.”