Monthly Archives: October 2011

Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools and World Languages

Seems that this school system and its superintendent understand the crucial role that foreign languages play:

The following article was written by Andrew Ujifusa for Gazette.Net, October 26, 2011:

Students studying foreign languages soon will have clearer and standardized expectations in the classroom, but those in immersion programs won’t be affected by the changes.

Following changes made to how other subjects, such as math and social studies, are taught, the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved a new structure for foreign language education earlier this month.

The organizational method for “World Languages” in secondary schools, called a “curriculum framework,” outlines what students are expected to know by their level of proficiency — an expectation called for by the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning. The school system’s guidelines mirror those approved by the Maryland State Department of Education.

“This is the first time we now have a very clearly laid-out, clearly articulated curriculum framework, which is kind of the public document that says, this is what we’re going to teach each year in generally this order across the year,” said Betsy Brown, director of the curriculum and instruction department.

Brown said although foreign language instruction has not been instructed haphazardly, teachers now will be able to find resources in print and online that reflect these standard curriculum guidelines.

A report last year from the school system’s Foreign Language Work Group, which made recommendations on foreign language instruction, suggested better professional development and easier access to teacher resources, and also recommended introducing “exploratory” foreign languages in elementary school, instead of beginning them in middle school.

The frameworks break down foreign language learning into five “standards,” including communication, cultures, comparisons, connections and communities, and state where students should be based on their skill level in each area.

For example, students in the middle level of their intermediate stage of communication are expected to be able to have spontaneous conversations on academic topics, such as an environmental issue’s global impact, and ask detailed follow-up questions and self-correct.

“You see more of the function of language, what students are able to do with language after the first year, the second year,” said Judith Klimpl, program supervisor for foreign language instruction in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the work group’s report, it noted more than half of middle school students in 2008-09 — 16,00 students — took at least one foreign language course for high school credit, while nearly two-thirds of high school students — 27,000 — did so. In the entire system, 35 percent of students graduate with at least four high school credits in a foreign language.

The school system offers 10 foreign languages; Brown said there are no imminent plans to add or subtract the number of foreign languages offered.

In a memo to the board, Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr wrote, “Twenty-first century challenges, both economic and strategic, have brought the need for world language competency to the forefront.”

The next step, Brown said, is for the system to develop instructional guides for foreign language based on the curriculum frameworks.

The school system received about 100 comments from the public about the guidelines. Most of them said they also should apply to immersion programs and Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, an after-school program offered by the nonprofit group Educational Programs, not the school system.

But the school system said the immersion programs in elementary school are governed by separate guidelines, the Elementary Integrated Curriculum.


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Congress Urged Not to Cut Foreign Language Spending

From October 24, 2011:

The American Council on Education (ACE), in conjunction with a coalition of higher education associations, is stepping up efforts to prevent Congress from making further cuts to the Department of Education’s (ED) international and foreign language programs.

Funding for Title VI International Education programs was cut $50 million (or 40 percent) in the FY 2011 spending bill. Now, as Congress works on FY 2012 spending bills for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, 2011, it is possible that further reductions are in the offing.

While the Senate proposes to fund these programs evenly, albeit at the reduced funding level approved last year, the House draft makes an additional $9 million cut, completely eliminating the Fulbright-Hays programs as well as the Institute for International Public Policy. The associations are working to persuade Congress to maintain these programs at the FY 2011 level of $75.7 million provided in the Senate bill.

One part of this effort is a letter sent last week to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership by a coalition of education groups, including ACE. The letter asks that funding be maintained for ED’s international and foreign language programs.

“The nation continues to face a dangerously short supply of Americans with in-depth knowledge of world regions and international markets, and fluency in foreign languages and their cultures,” the groups wrote. “These skills help to ensure our security and global economic competitiveness, including job creation and sustainable recovery from the economic crisis. The FY 2011 funding reductions already have weakened the educational opportunities needed to address these shortfalls, as well as to prepare our students for the 21st century global workplace.”

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Are Any U.S. Presidents Bilingual?

I came across this very interesting article ( regarding the language ability or inability of former and current presidential candidates/presidents and decided it was worth reprinting below. It’s distressing how few politicians know a language other than English, given the fact they deal with international affairs as well. Happy reading!

Despite our nation’s long history of immigration, and the fact that almost all of our ancestors were immigrants, the control of a second language among the populace is surprisingly low. Not so with our presidents. Thirty of them were at least bilingual, with some mastering six (John Adams and Teddy Roosevelt), nine (John Quincy Adams) and even ten languages (Thomas Jefferson)!

While Greek and Latin were compulsory subjects for anyone looking at higher education at the time (Princeton, for instance, requires the proficiency of both languages to be considered for admission), the high rate of secondary languages among them indicates the understanding that languages offer them competitive advantages over their peers, either culturally or intellectually.

In an amusing anecdote, Jefferson, in an attempt to polish his Greek, drew the ire of his good friend John Adams by writing much of his letters in Greek. The two of them probably inspired Adam’s son, John Quincy, who became a translator at the age of 14! James Garfield, whose language skills remain a matter of debate, was also a notable linguist. At 27, he was appointed as the Professor of Ancient Languages and Literature at Hiram College.





George Washington


John Adams

English, Hebrew, Latin, French, Spanish, Greek,

Thomas Jefferson

English, French, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish

German, Arabic, Gaelic, Welsh

James Madison

English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew

James Monroe

English, French


John Quincy Adams

English, French, Russian

Dutch, German, Latin

Greek, Italian, Spanish

Andrew Jackson



Martin van Buren


English, German, French


William H. Harrison



French, Choctaw

John Tyler


Greek, Latin

James Polk


Greek, Latin

Zachary Taylor


Millard Fillmore


Franklin Pierce


James Buchanan

English, Latin, Greek

Abraham Lincoln


Andrew Johnson


Ulysses S. Grant


Rutherford B. Hayes


Greek, Latin


James A. Garfield


Greek, Latin

Chester A. Arthur


Greek, Latin

Grover Cleveland


Benjamin Harrison


William McKinley

English, Latin, Greek

Theodore Roosevelt



German, Italian, Latin, Greek

William H. Taft


Woodrow Wilson


German, Latin, Greek

Warren G. Harding


Calvin Coolidge


Herbert Hoover

English, Mandarin, Latin

Franklin D. Roosevelt

English, French, German


Harry Truman


Dwight Eisenhower


John F. Kennedy



Lyndon Johnson



Richard Nixon

English, Latin

Gerald Ford



Jimmy Carter



Ronald Reagan


George H.W. Bush



Bill Clinton




George W. Bush



Barack Obama


Spanish, Indonesian

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Russian for Middle Schoolers

It seems that the Russian language, which had been so popular during the Cold War era, is making a bit of a comeback. Here’s an article from The Washington Post (October 7, 2011) about the teaching of Russian to middle schoolers in the suburbs of Washington, DC.:

To find the public school with the largest reported number of tweens learning Russian, look not in New York City, Alaska or anywhere else known for enclaves of immigrants from that country.

Instead, peer into Room 213 at Robert Goddard French Immersion School in Prince George’s County, where a teacher on this particular day is bouncing a rag doll named “Tyoti Moti” on her knee. Dani Sanders is leading the seventh-graders in a silly song about the frustrations of this doll, her Aunt Moti, whose four sons won’t stop singing these words at the dinner table:

“Pravaya ruka, levaya ruka. Pravoe plecho, levoe plecho,” motioning from one body part to another. Right arm, left arm. Right shoulder, left shoulder.

“Ah, ah, ah!” That translates to “Ah, ah, ah.”

In 2010, Sanders had 176 Russian students in eight classes, according to a survey by the Committee on College and Pre-College Russian, which has tracked Russian class enrollments since 1984. Goddard has the only full-fledged Russian public middle school program in the region. Of the nearly 300 schools at all grade levels that reported data, Goddard has the largest middle school program in the nation.

Often, the biggest Russian classes are filled with “heritage kids,’’ Sanders said. Not so at Goddard. At this school, where 82 percent of students are black or Hispanic, not a single person in Room 213 has a Russian background. Not even Sanders, who is from Bulgaria.

Tacked to her bulletin board are the 33 letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Taped on the chalkboard are fat numbers Sanders drew, colored in with marker. Only the daily assignment — “to review the numbers, 1 to 100” — is written in English. That’s so parents can review lessons with their children.

“The language is easy to get if you do the work and reflect on the vocabulary at home,’’ said David Williams, 12, a seventh-grader David Williams, 12, a seventh-grader. “I figure that the more variety I have with the languages I speak, the better chance I have to change the world. And all I want to do is change the world.”

Unusual appeal

The interest in Russian is certainly unusual. According to a 2008 report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, only 10 percent of high school students surveyed would take Russian if they had the chance.

The most popular language — with nearly 40 percent of those surveyed stating they would like to learn it — was French.

At Goddard, an elementary-middle school founded in 1986, students learn both. They are admitted as early as kindergarten through an application process. Then they are taught only in French, except for two courses: English and world languages.

Administrators originally used the world languages course for children to try a smorgasbord of nontraditional tongues, such as Japanese and Swahili.

About a decade later, Principal Kona-Facia Nepay said, administrators decided students should intensively learn a single language. When parents were surveyed, Nepay said, 85 percent wanted their children to learn Russian.

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Renaming Foreign Language Departments

This article is from Inside Higher Ed, October 5, 2011:

West Virginia University announced this semester that it no longer has a department of foreign languages, and that’s not because budget cuts eliminated any programs of study. Rather, the university renamed the program; it’s now the department of world languages, literatures and linguistics.

Across the country, Grossmont College, a two-year institution in Southern California, changed its foreign languages department to a world languages department this fall as well. These colleges follow others that have made that switch over the last five or so years. In Massachusetts, the Five College Foreign Language Resource Center was renamed the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages.

There are still plenty of departments named “foreign languages” (not to mention many foreign language requirements). But the trend — which appears to be growing — is leading to changes in the language used in programs. At Brookhaven College, for instance, the website of the world languages division puts the word “foreign” in quotes when discussing languages other than English. The Modern Language Association used to issue reports on “foreign language enrollments,” but more recently has gone with studies of “enrollments of languages other than English.” (The MLA does, however, still have its Association of Departments of Foreign Languages.)

The trend is least evident at elite institutions, which are more likely than most of higher education to have separate departments for individual languages or for groups of languages (Asian languages, Slavic languages). As a result, these institutions don’t have to place an overall label on groups of languages that may not have a lot in common beyond not being English.

One reason cited by many of the programs that are switching names is that their most popular language — Spanish — is widely spoken in the United States. “Spanish is not a foreign language anymore,” said Ángel T. Tuninetti, associate professor of Spanish and chair of world languages at West Virginia.

Many educators also do not like the way “foreign” suggests a division of the world into the United States and everyone else.

“There was a feeling that the word ‘foreign’ could imply different in a negative sense, and that the word ‘international’ for many reasons has a clearly positive connotation,” said Laurie L. Corbin, associate professor of French and chair of the (renamed a few years ago) department of international language and culture studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne.

Academics also noted that languages divisions increasingly include languages that are not remotely foreign. These languages include American Sign Language and English (as taught to those for whom it is not their first language). And other departments include what once could have been a separate comparative literature or linguistics department.

“Part of what you are seeing with the shrinking budgets and shrinking emphasis on the liberal arts is that in a lot of large departments that used to be separate, fields are going into more generalized departments,” said Grant Sisk, associate instructional dean at Brookhaven.

And even among faculty members who are teaching languages other than English, there has been a move to stress that they are not just teaching vocabulary, but also culture. With the new names, “there is a recognition that in any language class, you are always teaching culture as well,” said Corbin.

Picking an exact name isn’t always easy, even once a decision has been made to move away from “foreign.” The options may depend on what exactly is grouped in a department. At West Virginia, the department includes Latin as well as classical literature in translation, so those factors ruled out the name “modern languages,” which some departments have used. Faculty members felt that linguistics needed to be mentioned. And some discussion of leaving out “world” and going with just “languages, literatures and linguistics” was rejected out of a desire not to create confusion with the English department.

Tuninetti said that the reaction to the new name has been entirely positive, and that the discussions did yield an eventual consensus about what the division should be called.

Similar shifts are taking place in discussions over what to call English instruction outside of the United States and other countries where English is the first language. John Segota, associate executive director of TESOL International Association (formerly Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), said that in that field, the acronym EFL (for English as a foreign language) is seen increasingly as imprecise (outside the United States) when people all over the world use English in some ways.

The newly favored acronyms, he said, are EAL (English as an additional language) and EIL (English as an international language).

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British Education Secretary Advocates Teaching Foreign Languages from Early Age

Story by Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt for The Guardian, September 30, 2011:

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has proposed that every child aged five or over should be learning a foreign language, and promised to “pull every lever”, including encouraging longer school days, to make it happen.

In a pre-Conservative conference interview, he says: “There is a slam-dunk case for extending foreign language teaching to children aged five.

“Just as some people have taken a perverse pride in not understanding mathematics, so we have taken a perverse pride in the fact that we do not speak foreign languages, and we just need to speak louder in English. It is literally the case that learning languages makes you smarter. The neural networks in the brain strengthen as a result of language learning.”

In the interview he also:

• Urges more schools to follow the example of academies by extending the school day, for example by adding five hours’ extra learning a week – or six weeks a year.

• Calls for tougher, less means-tested, fines for parents of persistent school truants so that parental income needed “for satellite TVs, cigarette consumption or alcohol” is no longer taken into account in setting the fine. He also proposes schools or local authorities being entitled to bring prosecutions against parents of truants.

• Says he is prepared for the political flak when A-level results fall, probably next year, as a result of introducing a tougher exam, including fewer bite-sized chunks.

• Urges his party not to respond to the constraints of the coalition with the Liberal Democrats “by doing the things that make the most atavistic parts of our party cheer up”. He insisted the Conservative relationship with the Lib Dems “should be beyond businesslike, and instead be understanding and be appreciative of what they bring”.

Arguing that the whole education system needs to be reorientated towards language teaching, Gove says he expects the national curriculum review to look at whether there should be more subject-specialist teaching in primary schools.

He says that almost every other advanced country teaches children a foreign language from the age of five, adding Britain “has to set itself the same ambitious, but not impossible target”.

“One of the problems we have had in education, and as a country, is that we have been too insular for too long.”

Gove says the reform will require changes to teacher training, as well as encouraging teaching schools that take over chains of schools to promote languages.

Gove pointed out that schools in some deprived areas, such as parts of Nottingham, were already teaching Spanish at the age of five, and if it was possible for these schools, it should be possible nationwide.

“If we pull all the levers, change teacher training, help training schools to support others to go down this path, get schools that have language potential to take over under-performing schools, and we move the curriculum review in the right direction, then we can move towards the goal. The number of pupils sitting a language GCSE plummeted from 444,700 in the summer of 1998 to 273,000 in 2010. Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children.”

Gove also says: “One of the problems we have is children are not in school long enough in the day and during the year.”

He says he has been encouraged that free schools and many academies are using the freedoms they have been given to expand the length of the day, adding that this is hugely popular with parents and gives children the chance of a richer educational experience.

Teachers are currently contracted to teach 1,265 hours a year – 195 days of which have to be teaching days.

Gove says he recognises there could be resistance from teaching unions, but claims inspirational headteachers are taking staff with them on the issue.

“More and more of the young teachers coming into the profession do so because they are idealistic – they want to work as long as it takes to help children succeed. If teachers know the Department of Education are on their side to help them, then any staffroom voices saying ‘don’t go the extra mile’ will be a diminishing force.”

He also heralded changes to the benefit system so that parents of persistent truants are more clearly punished.

“At present, if parents are fined for children not attending school, there is a high level of non-compliance – and when it comes to means-test calculation of the fine to be paid, they knock a bit off for cigarette consumption, alcohol consumption and satellite TV subscriptions. The whole system does not send out a signal that encourages personal and parental responsibility. So we are looking at the fine structure, the effectiveness of how we follow up, and how we can broaden the range of institutions that can bring prosecutions, or initiate proceedings.”

Publication of truancy figures in primary schools, tightening the definitions of persistent truancy and making truancy a larger part of a school’s assessment, would also ratchet up the pressure, he said.

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