Monthly Archives: January 2012

Education Funding for Foreign Languages Cut

Jason Koebler for US News Education, January 16, 2012:

The Department of Education program that funded $27 million worth of foreign language education grants—which were split by a mix of 55 charter schools, school districts, and states—was cut in the recent budget bill, leaving the future of foreign language classes at these schools in jeopardy.

“What this cut does is pull the rug out from these programs,” Martha Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFA), says. Because the Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grants were awarded in three- or five-year increments, affected schools will have to scramble to find funding. “Some of them are in the middle of being funded; I think it’ll be interesting to see how the communities react to this,” Abbott says.

FLAP’s absence might affect more than the schools that were being funded. Abbott says that the money was often used to pilot new foreign language classes that could then be emulated in other schools in each district. Pilot program teachers would then train other teachers to multiply each grant’s effect.

[Learn four tips to help you in college foreign language classes.]

Besides FLAP, many foreign language programs are being cut by state legislatures, especially in elementary schools, where foreign language classes are often recent additions. “They’ve usually been added on, so it’s easy to cut,” Abbott says.

But many high schools are seeing their offerings limited. Schools that once offered several languages have cut programs as student enrollment drops. It doesn’t make sense to offer a Russian or German class for 10 students, Abbott says.

America is seeing growth, however, in Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic classes—languages that have a high economic or national security value. According to a report released last April by ACTFA, the number of K-12 students taking Chinese classes tripled between the 2004-2005 school year and 2007-2008, while the number of students taking Japanese increased 17 percent. Only 10 states reported enrollment numbers for Arabic, but the 2,300 students represented a 172 percent increase over 2004-2005 numbers.

Both foreign and national interests have fueled the increase. The government funds several programs nationwide in languages (such as Arabic, Chinese, and Urdu) it considers critical to national security. But many of the new Chinese programs are paid for by the Chinese government.

“When a country’s economy is strong, the government is often willing to support extending the learning of that language,” Abbott says. In the mid-1980s, she says, the number of Japanese language programs greatly increased due to Japan’s strong economy. “China is supporting and sponsoring teachers from China to extend the teaching of their language.”

[Learn more about Chinese and Japanese language growth.]

Students who study a foreign language usually see academic benefits regardless of the language they’re studying, according to several reports. A study of Louisiana elementary school students found that children who studied a foreign language performed better on the English section of the state exams.

College Board surveys have shown that for each year of foreign language study, average SAT scores in both the verbal and math sections increased significantly. Students who took four years of a foreign language scored more than 100 points higher on each section than students who took half a year or less.

Abbott says the benefits of foreign language education extend beyond academics.

“Students who study a foreign language have an openness and acceptance to people who speak other languages and come from other cultures,” she says. “We need to be growing students who can interact around the world. If we continue to grow a citizenry that is uncomfortable interacting and can’t get out there on the global stage, then we’re going to find ourselves in significant trouble in the world economy and the future.”

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2012 Presidential Candidates’ Position on Foreign Language Learning

It seems that Republican hopeful Rick Santorum prefers that English be the “official” language of the U.S., but he has not mentioned whether or not he supports the teaching of foreign languages from a young age in elementary schools. Mitt Romney, according to a blog on edweek.org, evidently does not think that bilingual programs are efficient or effective and does not support them (even though he supposedly speaks French as well) President Obama and Republican John McCain, on the other hand, are advocates of bilingual education. So, where do the others stand? More on this as their stands become available (if they do at all)

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Is Learning a Foreign Language Necessary for a High School Education?

The following comments were written by Casey Miller, a fourteen-year-old freshman from California, who understands the benefits of learning a foreign language. (published in HuffingtonPost.com, January 5, 2012) I hope more students will appreciate her comments.

At my school, every student needs at least 240 credits to graduate. Typically, there are 10 credits received for each year of a class, or five credits per semester. In order to graduate at my school, a student needs at least two years, or 20 credits, of a world language. Usually, two to three years of a foreign language are also required for a four-year college education.

Some students I’ve spoken to at my school dislike this requirement, though most schools in the United States also make learning a foreign language necessary. Students say that learning another language, such as Spanish, German, French, or Mandarin, is pointless. They don’t think they will ever use any of these languages. Excuses include that they don’t travel, don’t have international friends or family, or never talk to foreign visitors.

I think that learning a foreign language can be more valuable than many students realize. Primarily, learning a second language provides countless opportunities. Qualities, such as being bilingual are assets colleges look for in their student applicants; and not only is being bilingual relevant for college submissions, but for one’s career later in life. Whether one becomes a CEO of a major manufacturing company or an elementary school teacher, knowing another language is beneficial.

Living in America places us in the middle of an ethnic melting pot, surrounded by the cultures and races of many countries. The Hispanic population in the United States has increased dramatically over the past decade. More people have been learning Spanish due to the necessity of communicating with their neighbor! This is also part of the reason students learn Mandarin, French, German, and other languages. The United States continues to have one of the highest immigration rates of any country in the world, and the ability to comprehend and communicate another language can be useful when it comes to communication day to day and in the work field.

Due to technology and ease of international travel, we are now living in global society. Whether one is speaking Spanish in Mexico or French in Canada, being multilingual opens up opportunities. These opportunities could lead to new friends and new experiences.

Currently, I am in the middle of my third year learning Spanish. Some students choose Spanish because it is popular, easy, and their friends are doing it. I chose Spanish because of its usefulness. Living in California gives me many opportunities to practice my Spanish. According to 2010 Census results, the Spanish population in the United States has increased 43 percent over the past decade. Clearly, I am able to use my crazy Spanish skills often.

High school is a great time to acquire a new language, because the brain is still developing and it’s completely cost-free in all public high schools. And with all of its uses later in life, why not learn a foreign language while you have the chance?

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Spanish Unlocks Doors to Other Languages in Cal State Program

By Carla Rivera for Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2012:

Priscilla Castro grew up enthralled with French culture despite understanding few words of the movies and music in which she delighted.

Now Castro’s facility with Spanish, which her family spoke at home, is serving as an unlikely bridge to mastering le Francais in a unique Cal State Long Beach program designed to exploit Spanish speakers’ existing language skills.

“I’m not 100 percent fluent, but I can hold a conversation,” said Castro, 21, a journalism major. “A lot of things in Spanish are very similar, although because I learned Spanish at home, I didn’t know a lot of the grammatical rules. So learning French is actually helping me to improve my Spanish grammar.”

The French for Hispanophones program was developed more than five years ago but recently surged in popularity at the Long Beach campus, where more than 30 percent of students are Latino.

About 80 students were enrolled this fall in the French program, which has been such a success that a course in Italian for Spanish speakers was added this year. The university may double the number of class sections for each course next fall because of the demand, officials said.

The program has attracted the interest of linguistics educators from around the nation, including the Air Force Academy, which last year established a Portuguese course for Spanish speakers that is modeled on the Long Beach initiative.

“We realized from our own educational experiences that this kind of foreign language learning was a huge bonus, but what had never happened before was a strategic way of implementing courses that would be successful,” said Clorinda Donato, a professor of French and Italian at Long Beach and one of the program’s creators.

“It’s a highly innovative program, especially for the United States, where getting people to learn a language other than English is the first challenge, and teaching essentially a third language is an even greater accomplishment,” said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Assn.

“Research shows that once someone has learned a language other than their native tongue, it becomes increasingly easier to learn a third, fourth or fifth language,” Feal said. “Students doing this program will be uniquely advantaged if they want to go even further.”

Unlike traditional language programs that focus on the grammar and vocabulary of a single language, students in the French and Italian programs are taught to use similarities in their native language to better comprehend the new one.

The approach is especially effective with French, Spanish, Italian and other Romance languages. For example, the French verbs for “to know,” connatre and savoir, are similar in structure to the same verbs in Spanish, conocer and saber. Students in the Long Beach programs typically acquire skills in a single semester that would take a year in traditional programs, Donato said.

Students said they welcomed the accelerated pace.

“The masculine and feminine structure is similar, and that all came pretty easily,” said Jonathan Beaty, 22, a student of French who is fluent in Spanish. “The teacher doesn’t have to spend time on a lot of grammatical structures and can focus on other things.”

In another classroom, students were conversing in Italian and performing skits that would count toward their grades.

Jorge Gonzalez, who is taking Italian, said he studied abroad last year in Spain and was surprised during a trip to Italy to be able to communicate well in Spanish. He said he hopes that being trilingual will help his chances in a tough job market.

“I’m going into teaching, and it opens up so many more opportunities,” he said.

The Long Beach programs are thriving at a time when state and federal funding cuts have led many colleges and universities to eliminate foreign language degrees and graduate programs, despite growing demand by employers for foreign language proficiency. European language programs have been especially hard hit, as countries in the Middle East and Asia have gained economic and political clout.

The focus should be on expanding rather than restricting the language pool, especially in Southern California, which has a population of native Spanish speakers on which to build, said Etienne Farreyre, a cultural attache at the French Consulate in Los Angeles. The consulate initiated the Long Beach program and has provided funding and scholarship support.

“The program has proved that it works,” Farreyre said. “Once you learn those three languages, you can go all over the world.”

The Long Beach program was recently awarded a three-year, $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop French and Italian courses for Spanish speakers in high schools and community colleges. Long Beach instructors are also working with the University of Toulouse to develop specialized course materials.

Studying French has opened a world of possibilities for her, said Abril Calderon, a 2009 Long Beach graduate who works at a Los Angeles marketing firm.

“It allows me to tap into different markets and audiences,” said Calderon, 26, who also studied in France. “Something as simple as making a sales call and speaking Spanish or French can send a message and makes a huge difference in how relationships turn out. Personally, you feel more like a global citizen.”

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Darien, Connecticut’s Foreign Language Programs

By David DesRoches for DarienTimes.com, January 5, 2012:

What started with a study in 2007 finally became a reality — albeit a tentative one.
The long delay in bringing foreign languages to the elementary schools ended this month when the Board of Education passed a $320,000 program with a 6-1 vote. But it remains to be seen if the new initiative will make the Spring budget cuts.

Last year, parents showed up wearing red shirts to multiple meetings to support languages, but the program was axed during the first round of cuts.

A common reason for putting off foreign languages has been the economy, although an argument could be made that delaying this program has helped the economy.

Several immersion-based language programs have been started in town, including LinguaKids which opened in 1999, Franc-O Fun opened in 2009, and this year Playdate’s Maureen Bloom and parent Karen Christiansen partnered to create a Spanish immersion program for two-year olds. The First Congregational Church has had a preschool Spanish program for years.

And business has been good for many of these programs. LinguaKids’ business grew from 33 kids at its beginning in Darien, to hundreds of kids at 20 elementary schools in Fairfield and Westchester counties.

Picking up on the demand for languages, the schools began an earnest search for a program in 2007. After three years of studies and discussions, a proposal came before the Board of Ed in 2010. Spearheaded by Christiansen, a mother of three, the program gained much town-wide backing. Christiansen herself gathered nearly 1,700 signatures in support of bringing languages to town.

But the proposal that came forward was a 45-minute class every six days. The board was torn over the concept, because it was agreed that languages were needed, but the program was shot down as it was seen as not rigorous enough for the cost. Only board members Jim Plutte and Susan Perticone voted in favor of the program last year.

The discussions did, however, open the door for this year’s proposal. After last year’s vote-down, Falcone appeared optimistic about the ongoing conversation.

“It’s a disappointment but I’m also encouraged by what I felt was the support for the concept… and the encouragement to bring it back,” Falcone told the board last year.

This year’s program structure didn’t change the amount of class time, but it became a once-a-week program that would take the place of the library. It had everyone convinced except for board member Amy Bell, who expressed concern that approving the program without approving the money was irresponsible.

“Normally, we… vote on the concept of a new program as well as the funding — during the budget process,” Bell told the Board of Ed just before the vote was taken. “I worry that this separate vote that we are taking tonight will create an expectation in the community — an expectation that may not be fulfilled — because we don’t know what else is being proposed in the budget in January…”

Board Chairman Betsey Hagerty-Ross disagreed, and said they normally vote on a program prior to establishing the budget.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Judith Pandolfo said the program would take up 2.5% of total instructional time. “We’re trying to get as much as we can from the program without making it overwhelmingly expensive,” Pandolfo told the board.

Christiansen lamented the board’s decision. “I really feel like implementing such a weak program will only lead to the program being on the chopping block in short term as our budget continues to need cutting year after year,” Christiansen wrote in an e-mail.

But if the program survives the budget, it won’t necessarily stay the same over the years. Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone said the program is open to change, and the schools could “adjust things” as time progressed to better meet the needs of the students.

Christiansen moved to Darien from Glastonbury, which has had elementary foreign language studies since 1957, and she assumed Darien did too.

When she discovered that wasn’t the case, she thought it was inevitable that Darien would have a program by the time her children entered school. But when that didn’t happen, she said, she approached school officials who repeatedly told her the program was “on the table.”

“I began wondering what table it was on,” she said last year.

It’s still not clear whether the program will be implemented school-wide, or whether it will be phased in by grade level over two or three years. Five teachers will also need to be hired.

Pandolfo emphasized how the program was an “infusion into the whole school community.”

She said that while the 2.5% is the actual time spent on the language, total exposure would more likely be 5%, as the children would be exposed to Spanish throughout the school. “I think some of those are even more nurturing, because you’re applying the language in other settings,” Pandolfo said.

The program is not curriculum based, meaning the students won’t learn about topics that are covered in other classes, but will instead focus on culture and basic language learning. New Canaan, Greenwich, Westport and Weston are similar towns that already have a foreign language program at the elementary level.

For the past 30 years, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language has gathered data on the effectiveness of learning languages early. According to the Council, it enriches and enhances a child’s mental development, leaves students with more flexibility in thinking and greater sensitivity to language and capacity for listening, improves a child’s understanding of his or her native tongue, gives children the ability to communicate with people they otherwise would have never known, opens doors to other cultures, nurtures understanding and increases job opportunities for many careers.

In an increasingly globalized economy, skills such as these will be a growing demand, advocates say. Additional reporting by Jake Kara, Susan Shultz and Susan Chavez.

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