Monthly Archives: May 2011

K-8 Foreign Language Demand Increases

Nice to see some success stories —

Article by Jessica Kwong for San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 2011:

Clutching an oversize children’s book, the teacher made her way through a couple dozen squealing second-graders as they sat on the floor for one of their favorite weekly activities, story time.

“Tres, dos, uno … silencio por favor,” she said, bringing a finger to her lips.

The students hushed on cue.

“You may not know the words, but it’s OK,” Claudia Portillo continued, opening the Spanish-language version of Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider.” “When you see the pictures, you will figure a lot of them out.”

She used hand gestures to illustrate “tejer,” meaning spin, and “hilo,” meaning thread. The students repeated.

This, and every K-8 class at St. Philip School in Noe Valley, is getting instruction in a foreign language, a subject that more and more parents of young pupils are demanding, whether it’s part of a before, during or after-school program.

Many of the parents, who never had such an opportunity when they were growing up, believe their kids will benefit from an earlier introduction to a second language.

In 2007, parents gave after-school Spanish classes “very positive feedback,” said St. Philip’s Principal Remy Everett. So she integrated it into the regular school day the following year. Each class now gets one hour of instruction per week.

The classes have relied on music and art exercises to keep students excited, but Everett said the goal for next year is to give elementary classes more textbook-based instruction.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “But we are moving in that direction, because I think the kids are ready to learn more.”

St. Philip School hired a specialist, Globalanguages, which has seen increasing demand for its services in private schools. A founder of the 5-year-old San Francisco firm, Lori Frediani, said it currently has 20 school partnerships.

Her company has had a harder time winning contracts in public elementary schools, where language classes are rare and are typically offered outside of the school day through the PTA.

“In the last two years, money has been an issue,” Frediani said. “Before, a lot of parents wanted language classes three times a week; now they’re doing it once or twice a week.”

In the San Francisco Unified School District, as in many other public districts, studying a foreign language is not required before high school. But many elementary school students in the city are exposed to second languages – sometimes English, sometimes Spanish or Mandarin – through immersion programs.

Despite $113 million in budget cuts over the past two years, those programs have been maintained, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

“San Francisco has a long tradition of supporting students in being bicultural and bi-literate,” she said. “The board four years ago passed a policy intent on moving toward having every student graduate bi-literate.”

The district has 21 immersion programs, in which 80 percent of instruction at the kindergarten level is done in the foreign language. English is added until it makes up half of the instruction by fifth grade.

The percentage of San Francisco kindergarten applications that listed a school’s language-immersion program as a first choice jumped from 25 percent in 2004 to 39 percent this year, Blythe said.

More and more parents are realizing that “children through age 8 have a language acquisition window where they can learn naturally,” said Michael Fee, executive director of Lango, another Bay Area-based foreign language business.

Lango’s Bay Area enrollment has grown 20 percent per year since it launched in 2007, Fee said.

In many cases, kids are studying languages away from the school campus. On a recent morning, 3-year-old Mikaela Ulloa took Lango’s Mandarin Tot and Parent class at a studio space in San Francisco.

Getting started before formal school instruction has been a priority for Mikaela’s father, 40-year-old Braulio Ulloa, 40. This was his second session with his daughter, and he’s pleased with her progress.

Upon hearing the teacher say “lü se,” meaning green, Mikaela gleefully jumped into a green-colored hoop. At “Ji zhang!” she gave a high-five.

Ulloa, who was born in Colombia, said, “She already speaks Spanish at home, at school she speaks English, and I’m planning to take her to a Chinese immersion school. The earlier the better is the way I see it.”

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Government Reductions Force Cuts in Foreign Language Programs at Duke

More cuts to foreign languages at universities! When will this end? There’s plenty of fat in other parts of the US budget to trim. Stop taking away money from essential programs!!

The following article is from The Duke Chronicle and was written by Lauren Carroll, May 26, 2011:

Several academic centers at Duke are expected to lose nearly $4 million because of cuts to government spending on international and foreign language education.

Last Fall, the University was awarded more than $12 million in competitive federal grants—from Title VI of the Higher Education Act—to be distributed over four years. Because of the government’s spending reductions for fiscal year 2010-2011, however, Duke’s seven Title VI-funded centers will receive a lesser amount than promised. The exact size of the reductions to Duke’s programs will be confirmed in coming weeks.

The seven affected centers—including the Center for International Studies, the Middle East Studies Center and the Language Resource Center for Slavic and Eurasian Languages—offer a variety of cultural studies programs and less commonly taught foreign languages. These topics are critical to national security and business interests, said Gilbert Merkx, vice provost for international affairs and director of international and area studies.

“[The United States] won’t have any capabilities in these languages unless the federal money supports the teaching of those languages,” Merkx said. “Virtually everyone who works in these languages in these strange places has been trained in Title VI [centers].”

Merkx added that military officers are often trained at Title VI centers in universities across the country—including Duke.

Carl Herrin, senior partner at the consulting firm Global Education Solutions, said the government’s total cuts to Title VI funding nationally are expected to reach 40 percent, or approximately $50 million. Herrin added that these cuts were unexpected.

“Given the rhetoric of [the federal] administration, it was very unlikely that there would be significant reductions,” Herrin said. “That they would be on the order of 40 percent was beyond the pale.”

Although expected cuts have yet to be confirmed, some of Duke’s centers have begun to discuss strategies for combatting their anticipated budgetary reductions. Edna Andrews, director of the Title VI Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European studies, said her program will have to reduce its extracurricular spending—used to host guest speakers or hold conferences—in order to focus on graduate studies.

“We’ll have to put most of our efforts into what we believe in most—graduate fellowships and courses,” Andrews said.

Merkx said the Center for International Studies is spending as little as possible this summer in order to save for the Fall because it may have to cut “virtually all” programming in order to maintain core staff members.

He also noted that the centers may have to cut some programs that are required in order to receive Title VI funding—an obstacle that could prevent them from effectively competing in the next grant competition in three years.

Since the federal appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010-2011 was passed in April, Duke has been lobbying to try and maintain its share of the total Title VI funding, said Chris Simmons, associate vice president for federal relations. President Richard Brodhead also sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asking the secretary to consider the importance of international studies programs while assessing potential cuts. Simmons noted, however, Duke’s options for appeal are limited.

Herrin said that though the federal government may support Title VI programs, the cuts originate from pressure to reduce discretionary spending in order to maintain substantial funding for programs such as Pell grants—need-based grants for higher education.

“The longer that the money [for Title VI programs] isn’t there, the harder it is to get it back,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether Title VI is important for education, it’s ‘Is that more important than a Pell grant?’”

Still, Simmons said Duke is hopeful that lobbying efforts and government budget restoration will allow for renewed Title VI funding as soon as fiscal year 2011-2012.

“We’re hoping that this is just a bad gash,” he said.

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Oxfordshire Head School Teacher Wants to Cut Second Language

The following article is from the BBC, May 23, 2011:

Dr Fiona Hammans from Banbury School said a 12-year-old with a reading age of six did not benefit from learning French or German.

She said: “They are so left behind and my real concern is that we don’t leave them even further behind.”

The school has now applied to become an academy so it is free from having to stick to the national curriculum.

Currently Banbury School is obliged to teach a second language to all its pupils until the age of 14.

‘Very difficult’
In January Education Secretary Michael Gove signalled the possible return of compulsory foreign languages at GCSE when he launched a review of England’s national curriculum.

But a spokesman from the Department for Education said: “It would be inappropriate to speculate in advance of that [review] on the details of what any new requirements in respect of language study might be.”

Dr Hammans said that taking on an additional language at an early stage can lead to both developing together but there was no point if the pupil was already struggling with English.

She said: “If they don’t have a background or an understanding of one language the research says it’s very difficult for anybody to learn another language.”

The school hopes to have its new academy status in place by September 2011 to enable it to provide dedicated literacy lessons to pupils who require it.

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New York State Eliminates More Foreign Language Exams

Cara Matthews for Albany Watch, May 17, 2011:

Faced with continued shortfalls for Regents exams, the state Board of Regents voted today to make a total of $8 million in reductions to the program for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The state Education Department asked the state to provide $15 million from the general fund, but it only received $7 million.

The cuts will eliminate the January administration of Regents exams, which will save $1.4 million and eliminate the Italian, French and Spanish exams, which will save $700,000. Postponing the development of English/language arts tests for grades 9 and 10 will save $1.2 million, and continuing the elimination of grades 5 and 8 social studies exams will reduce costs by $800,000. (They were also eliminated this school year.)

The Board of Regents will save $3.9 million of the $8 million through administrative steps as follows:
—Identifying additional production cost reductions, leveraging other funding streams and making necessary workforce changes, $2.3 million.
—Reducing the number of assessments printed and shipped (Regents and No Child Left Behind) to better align with the actual number of tests administered, $700,000. Districts that order surplus exams will be responsible for the extra cost.
—Reviewing vendor contracts to improve cost-effectiveness, and canceling contracts and in-source exam activities where possible, $600,000.
—Expanding electronic distribution of related exam materials, including teachers guides and scoring instructions.

In recent years, the state Education Department has been able to use federal funds to fill the funding gap, but they are no longer available, according to the agency. But this is not the first time the Board of Regents has had to slash Regents exams.

Regents voted in June 2010 to cut costs by more than $6 million by eliminating grades 5 and 8 social studies exams; grade 8 second-language proficiency exams; component retesting in math and English/language arts; high school foreign-language exams in German, Hebrew and Latin; and Algebra2/Trigonometry and chemistry exams given in August. They continued cost-savings measures that had been put in place in 2009 to save $4 million.

For 2010-11, Regents were able to restore the proposed cuts of the January administration of the exams, exam translations and the high school Italian exam through a one-time revenue transfer of $2.5 million.


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Neshaminy School District Faces Possible Cuts to Middle School Language Program

Article by Nicole Jenet for Lower Southampton Patch, May 15, 2011:

During the April 26 and May 10 Neshaminy School District school board meetings, superintendent Louis Muenker presented various budget cost-saving measures.

Two of those cost-saving measures were the elimination of tenth grade physical education and eighth grade foreign language classes. The elimination of these two programs would save the district more than $380,000.

However, at the May 10 board meeting students and teachers voiced their disapproval of those program cuts.

“We should not allow Neshaminy to move backwards,” said Rebecca Johnson, a Neshaminy High School junior from Langhorne. She said eliminating foreign language at the eighth grade level would also eliminate the fifth level of foreign language classes.

This elimination will “put students at a disadvantage,” Johnson said, noting that Neshimany does not offer German or AP level foreign language classes.

“It will definitely cut the students’ opportunities,” said Yasmin Malik, a sixth-grader at Maple Point Middle School.

“Neshaminy students won’t be able to complete [in the global economy], let alone with other Bucks County students,” she said.

“Don’t cut foreign languages in the middle schools,” Malik said.

Maple Point Middle School seventh grader Alex Guffman said that he and his peers “know it is a privilege to take a foreign language in middle school” and that they want to take a foreign language to prepare them for life. Guffman said that he had about 200 signatures from people opposed to eliminating foreign language in middle schools.

Reducing Neshaminy students’ foreign language exposure “drags them down in world competition,” Neshaminy High School alum Stacy Speese said.

“You may think cutting this will save you a pretty penny, but take a look at the bigger picture for the students,” Speese said.

Neshaminy High School foreign language teacher Nancy Kerr said that the elimination of eighth grade foreign language is “shortsighted and detrimental to the school’s mission.”

Maple Point Middle School physical education teacher Kathleen Kenney told the board that “childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high,” and that some students don’t partake in physical activity outside of gym class.

“It is scientifically proved that physical activity improves academic performance,” Kenney said. She asked the board why they would cut a nationally recognized program.

“These phys. ed. teachers not only teach us to get up and move, they also teach us life long lessons,” Maple Point Middle School student Kira Bradley said. She said putting students in a study hall would mean students sitting in a cafeteria on the cell phones and Ipods and “ironically” eating junk food.

“We don’t want to cut foreign language,” board member William O’Connor said, noting that the board’s hands are tied due to collective bargaining with the teachers’ union.

“Cutting programs is the greatest sin of all. Unfortunately, we have to consider a log of unpopular things,” he said. O’Connor continued that he hopes that a “miracle comes through from the governor’s budget” and he apologized.

“This board does not take lightly any cutbacks in programs, but if the [Neshaminy Federation of Teachers] were to come to the table and pay their fair share if health care and benefits and be reasonable about their salary, most of these cuts would not be made,” board member Mike Morris.

“This board is not doing the cuts because we want to, we’re doing them because we have to,” he said.

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Sacramento State Spanish Department Facing Further Cutbacks

Article by Sean Keister in The Hornet, May 11, 2011:

The Spanish program at Sacramento State faces the possibility of further cutbacks to courses and sections during the fall 2011 semester.
Nick Burnett, interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the department is in the middle of a program review done every five to six years – where they reflect on how they have been doing and what they will do going forward.
“I think they’ve been responsive,” Burnett said. “They’ve been interested in seeing where they can make improvements and doing what they can to stretch their instructional resources. My sense is that the problems they are having would not be very different from the problems that other departments in Arts and Letters are having.”
The Spanish program now has seven full-time professors.
“We’re getting to a point where year after year we’ve had far more people retiring or taking jobs elsewhere than we are of hiring people to replace them,” Burrnett said. “It certainly is a fact and a very serious concern that we have fewer full-time faculty members on staff now then we might have had three or four years ago.”
Spanish professor Wilfrido Corral said he has seen many problems within the program, but he can only speak for himself and his view does not represent that of other faculty members.
Corral said the department will not have enough members of the faculty for the fall semester to run the Spanish program as effective as it should, which will lead to fewer courses being offered.
“I am very concerned that the faculty cannot offer courses that would make our Spanish majors and minors competitive for the employment possibilities for which they would normally be prepared or trained,” Corral said. “A greater concern is that, as one of the few institutions that serves an increasing Hispanic demographic with BA and MA programs, our standing will be eroded.”
Daniela Cardenas, sophomore Spanish major, has had to extend her graduation date because one of her courses will not be available when she needs it.
“I have to wait another semester because some of the courses are only offered during certain semesters either the fall or the spring,” Cardenas said. “I will now graduate in the spring of 2013 instead of fall of 2012.”
She said she does not mind larger class sizes because it does not hinder the amount of classes.
“I think that will be good because it gives more opportunities for students to get into classes they want to get in,” Cardenas said.
What also is holding the department back is the uncertainty of how much Gov. Jerry Brown will ultimately cut in the California State University system.
“We plan for and we think we can implement the 9.7 percent cut, but people have been reluctant to talk about how bad it might be if they end up going for the full billion-dollar cut to the CSU,” Burnett said.
He said despite these concerns, the college will attempt to put money into areas that are most needed for graduating students with one-time funds.
“It’s money they’ve been able to save from previous budgets, or maybe generate in other ways, and they are willing to plug those dollars into the schedule in places that would prevent people, where the absence of classes would prevent people from graduating,” Burnett said.
One of the difficulties faced by the Spanish department is that it not only serves its majors, but also fulfills the university’s foreign language requirement for graduation, Burnett said.
“It creates a set of demands that wouldn’t be there without the foreign language requirement that both I and the dean’s office is very much in support of,” Burnett said.
Corral said instructors at the college level should meet the standard that the institution demands to remain credible.
“There is some sense in having faculty at an institution like ours be generalists, but rigorous competence in a specific field can only come from faculty specifically trained in particular fields,” Corral said. “In my case, I have taught French at the high school level, but it would be a disservice to students to have me teach that language at the college level, or to have an Italian professor teach linguistics – as was once suggested to me while I was chair.”
He said while he cannot address the foreign language department’s difficulties, he said for Spanish (which he calls the bread and butter of foreign languages), the greatest problem at all levels of instruction has been the workload.
Burnett said the problems in the Spanish program stand out more because of the high demand.
“It’s possible that some of the other areas where they have also lost faculty, the demand is not as quite as high, and the result is that Spanish feels it more acutely, but everybody is facing the cutbacks,” Burnett said.
Corral said he is concerned like all of his colleagues.
“We have some excellent, dedicated and productive faculty, but further cutbacks will undermine our present low morale even further,” Corral said.
Cardenas said she loves the Spanish department and her professors, and hopes it does not continue to struggle.
“Maybe one day my major probably won’t be there,” Cardenas said. “It will affect a lot of people because Spanish is very universal now, and we need it.”

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A Second Language For Every High School Student

Russell Berman, comparative literature and German studies professor at Stanford University and president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), recently suggested that all high school students be fluent in a language other than English. What a great idea but, as Berman noted, it would be difficult to implement such a program in light of all the budget cuts to languages. Hopefully, language teachers and students interested in learning foreign languages will find ways to combat slashes to language and general humanities programs. Any ideas? The full text of the article is below (from Cynthia Haven for, May 5, 2011):

All high school students should be fluent in a language other than English, and it’s a matter of national urgency. So says Russell Berman – and as president of the Modern Language Association (MLA), his opinion carries some clout.

“To worry about globalization without supporting a big increase in language learning is laughable,” the Stanford humanities professor wrote in this summer’s MLA newsletter, in an article outlining the agenda for his presidency.

In conversation, he is just as emphatic, calling for “a national commitment to ramping up the quality of education.”

“Budget attacks on language programs from the Republicans and Democrats are just the contemporary form of a xenophobia that suggests we don’t need languages – and it’s deeply, deeply misguided.”

Berman noted that “barely a dozen states require any foreign language study to graduate from high school.”

“You can’t expect that we can eliminate language, eliminate the arts, dumb down history and English and have intelligent achievers come out of secondary schools,” he said.

So far, according to MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal, Berman’s remarks “have been well received by MLA members as well as by the larger academic community. Professor Berman has taken a bold stand and his leadership has generated a good deal of respect.”

Support among academics

Indeed, some MLA members are rallying to the cry. “We will never attain such a goal – and I do think it’s critical to strive for it – if we don’t begin to raise consciousness now,” said Lynne Tatlock, director of the Committee on Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. While Berman may be “asking for what may now seem impossible,” Tatlock asked, “How hard can that be if we put real resources into it and keep at it over time?”

Berman, who teaches German culture and language and comparative literature, is an expert on cultural relations between Europe and the United States. He also has been an associate dean in the School of Humanities and Sciences and director of Stanford’s Overseas Studies Program. He is well equipped to handle doubters.

For example, some argue that English is now spoken everywhere, blunting the necessity for American students to learn another language. Berman scoffed. “English has become the universal language if you spend your life in airports and international hotels. It’s not the lingua franca of humanity. It’s a fairy tale we tell ourselves.”

Monolingualism, he said, “is a disadvantage in the global economy. If you get off the plane in Germany and take a cab, you can’t count on the driver speaking English,” said Berman. “I would call that a disadvantage.”

Of course, our schools are already linguistic melting pots, and teachers are buckling under the pressure of teaching English in classrooms where a welter of native languages and dialects jostle. “Americans are extraordinarily skilled at making excuses for its educational system,” Berman replied. “We are experts at doing students a disservice by depriving them of the opportunity to learn.”

Berman’s remarks come a few months after an MLA report showing that enrollment in foreign languages in higher education is on the upswing over the last decade, and spreading to include a far broader range of language studies. (Particularly stunning: Enrollments in Arabic language courses jumped 46 percent between 2006 and 2009.)

According to MLA’s Feal, “Our college and university language enrollment figures show that students want to study a wide variety of languages. If students had more access to languages before entering the postsecondary system, their path to fluency would be more efficient.”

U.S. lags behind other nations

She pointed out that virtually all other industrialized countries require second or third language study in the school system: “The United States should be a leader in this global competency and not be seen as lagging behind.”

Karin Ryding, who teaches Arabic at Georgetown University, agreed. She pointed to an upcoming conference in Sweden that is considering quadrilingualism, particularly for the countries of Northern Europe. She cited research showing that third and fourth languages are easier to acquire once a second language has been mastered.

One of the advantages of learning foreign languages has always been its importance in teaching the structure of language itself – including one’s native tongue. Such advantages extend even to such languages as Latin, which has been credited with giving its students great cognitive boosts.

“I always advise those who ask about preparing to learn Arabic to study Latin, mainly because it teaches them how morphology and syntax interact, for example, in the system of case-marking. This is a good step forward for learning Arabic structure,” said Ryding.

According to Washington University’s Tatlock, “Some high school students have been raised bilingually and can already move with ease across language communities. These are the lucky ones. Shouldn’t bilingualism be more than a mere accident of family circumstance and instead an opportunity available to all U.S. high school students?”

Instead, native languages are often treated like a handicap to overcome, rather than as a cognitive skill and a resource that should be maintained as the students become fluent in English. Berman assailed the lack of support for the home languages of the students who arrive on our shores from Vietnam, the Ukraine and El Salvador, whose skills would be enhanced by helping them use their household language in public or academic settings.

Berman decried a “national onslaught” against the humanities and languages. Foreign language departments at many universities are facing budget cuts, mergers with other departments or closure – witness the recent shutdown of language programs at the State University of New York at Albany. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Fulbright-Hays programs, which support educators studying abroad, also have had their budgets shorn.

While the outlook for languages is not promising, “this is no time for modest proposals, and the fight for the humanities is not for the faint of heart,” Berman wrote.

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