Monthly Archives: December 2012

Welsh Language Center Uses Science to Reverse Decline in Foreign Language Study

Great idea! Hope more school systems will follow the Center’s lead! Article by Nicola Smith for BBC News, December 21, 2102:

The National Centre for Languages in Wales has turned to the sciences to reverse the decline in pupils choosing a foreign language at GCSE.

The centre, also called Cilt Cymru, is working with 32 schools to encourage teenagers to study a language.

One project is with Stemnet, which promotes science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

It wants pupils to consider career prospects from combining science subjects with a language.

Science is compulsory in Wales at GCSE but modern foreign languages are not.

The idea is to show pupils who are considering their GCSE options that studying Stem subjects alongside languages can improve job opportunities in the UK and Europe.

Jana Witt is from Germany but is now studying a PhD at Cardiff University. She is a Stemnet “ambassador”.

“As a scientist, you are being sent abroad constantly,” she said.

World stage
“You’re going to conferences, and even if it’s a conference in the UK, there’ll be people from all over the world there and it just helps so much if you can speak their language”.

GCSE pupils in Wales have a choice of at least 30 courses but many are not opting for foreign languages.

In the past five years, the number of pupils in Wales taking French at GCSE fell by 28%. Entries for German fell by 38%. It is a similar pattern in England.

Kristina Hedges, of Cilt Cymru in Cardiff, warns that Wales needs to keep pace with the rest of Europe in language skills if it is to compete on the world stage.

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My languages help me as I can speak to the customers directly rather than go through my colleagues in different countries”

Sarah Broadhead
Tata Steel
“There is a need for language skills,” she said.

“A recent survey of employers tells as that 45% of them need people with language skills for their business.

“If we’ve only got at the moment one in four young people taking languages in their options at secondary school, then there’s a disparity between what the country needs and what we’re providing in terms of the skills of our young people.”

The Welsh government said it is committed to promoting foreign languages in schools.

Foreign languages are not compulsory in primary school either, but a spokesperson said guidance is available to the schools that choose to teach those subjects – and that it encourages others to incorporate it into the curriculum.

Sarah Broadhead works in the sales team at Tata Steel in Llanwern. She speaks French and Spanish. Her languages are a vital part of her role in the company, which has customers across the world.

“My languages help me as I can speak to the customers directly rather than go through my colleagues in different countries,” she said.

“It means I can develop a relationship myself, they can understand me and I can understand their culture a bit more too”.

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Britain Excludes Hebrew from Officially Recognized Languages

Unbelievably ignorant and intolerant! How can the British government simply exclude any language from being taught in schools?! Here’s the article from Simon Rocker in the JC.com, December 14, 2012:

The government’s planned exclusion of Hebrew from a list of officially recognised languages for primary schools could damage Jewish education, the Board of Deputies warned this week.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss announced plans last month to make it compulsory, from September 2014, to teach a foreign language to children aged seven to 11. Schools would be required to offer at least one of only seven recognised languages, excluding Hebrew.

Many Jewish primary schools, which have to fit in Jewish studies alongside the national curriculum, currently offer Hebrew as their only foreign language. According to the Board, they would find it impossible to continue teaching it if they were compelled to offer another foreign language as well.

Board senior vice-president Laura Marks said the government proposals could be “extremely detrimental to our community’s identity, as language — including modern and classical Hebrew — is a vital ingredient to understanding our faith and culture”. She urged the government “to reject the idea of stipulating just a narrow range of languages”.

Four years ago, a Jewish Leadership Council report urged all Jewish schools to teach Hebrew and said that it was “disappointing” that some had preferred French as their foreign language.

The importance of classical Hebrew was recognised nearly 600 years ago in England when Henry VIII established Regius professorships in the subject at Oxford and Cambridge.

A few Jewish primary schools do manage to offer a second foreign language in addition to Hebrew. The Michael Sobell Sinai School in Kenton teaches French, Ivrit and even some Spanish.

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Foreign Language Education and Academic Success

A reminder of how important foreign language study is for everyone. Following article by John Benson in Huffington Post, December 5, 2012:

In the not so distant future, speaking a foreign language may be yet another thing elementary school children can do with ease. Take for instance Utah and Delaware, where state money is being used to implement foreign language immersion programs. This is in light of the U.S. Dept. of Education’s recent zeroing out of federal dollars for foreign language programming.

Foreign language immersion refers to a process of instruction in which students learn a second language and such second language is used as medium to teach the school’s curriculum. In other words, classroom instruction is done only through the second language being taught.

“We’re sort of in a strange situation where we see these pockets of support as well as some interesting grassroots phenomenon with respect to language instruction,” Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) Executive Director William P. Rivers told VOXXI. “There are new Chinese programs popping up in high schools in Mississippi in part because of the Language Flagship program. There are summer language camps called STARTALK that are funded by the Director of National Intelligence’s office.”

JNCL-NCLIS has a mission plan of ensuring Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language, to advance the language profession in the U.S., and to raise awareness about the importance of language and international education.

In fact, a 2008 Center for Applied Linguistics study showed that 25 percent of elementary schools, 58 percent of middle schools and 91 percent of high schools offer foreign language instruction.

Benefits of foreign language immersion

Rivers admitted data on foreign language immersion of elementary age school children is minimal, but a new study kicked off this past summer in Portland, Ore. by the American Councils for International Education and nonprofit think-tank Rand Corp. The three-year review is being funded by a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

“The results generally show the more language kids get, the more striking the results are,” Rivers said. “They score better on all sorts of standardized measures, whether it’s first language literacy, mathematics and more. And there’s lots of other data on socio-economic outcome. People who speak a foreign language tend to make more money. Something like 3 percent on average regardless of the field, assuming they also speak English.”

The notion of elementary school foreign language immersion is being driven by forward-thinking educators, government officials and business leaders. For proof, look no further than the languages catering to the global marketplace. Naturally, Spanish remains popular but programs across the country include Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese and Korean.

Moving forward, Rivers said polling data over the past decade shows there is momentum behind K-12 foreign language programming. This is due to America’s ever-increasing diverse society.

“The demographics are going to push that but it’s going to be kind of a longer timeframe than some of my colleagues would like in terms of seeing not just increased support for foreign languages but increased foreign language programming in our schools,” Rivers said. “There’s always countervailing tendencies such as budgetary and curricular pressures that kind of push back on being able to put foreign language in but overall looking down the road we have a pretty bright future.”

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America’s Foreign Language Deficit

Here’s a commentary I recently saw about the need to bolster foreign language study in U.S. schools.

David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler in Forbes, August 27, 2012:

When elementary and secondary schools and colleges around the country open for the fall semester, millions of students will not be studying a foreign language. Not necessarily for lack of interest. They won’t be able to.

In a shrinking world this reality constitutes a threat to our national security. “To prosper economically and to improve relations with other countries,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared in 2010, “Americans need to read, speak and understand other languages.” Unfortunately, Duncan pointed out, only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans (and increasing numbers in other parts of the world) can converse in a second language.

More and more students and their parents understand the need to communicate with friends and foes in other countries, and not just on our terms. Demand for and enrollment in foreign language courses is at its highest level since 1968. At public K-12 schools, course enrollment in 2007-2008 reached 8.9 million individuals, about 18.5 percent of all students; between 1995 and 2009, it increased 47.8 percent at colleges and universities.

At the same time, however, schools at every level are balancing their budgets and offsetting reductions in government allocations by cutting their offerings and/or eliminating foreign language requirements.

Consider this:

– The percentage of public and private elementary schools offering foreign language instruction decreased from 31 to 25 percent from 1997 to 2008. Instruction in public elementary schools dropped from 24 percent to 15 percent, with rural districts hit the hardest.

– The percentage of all middle schools offering foreign language instruction decreased from 75 to 58 percent.

– The percentage of high schools offering some foreign language courses remained about the same, at 91 percent.

– About 25 percent of elementary schools and 30 percent of middle schools report a shortage of qualified foreign language teachers.

– In 2009-2010, only 50.7 percent of higher education institutions required foreign language study for a baccalaureate, down from 67.5 percent in 1994-1995. And many colleges and universities, including Cornell, have reduced or eliminated instructional offerings in “less popular” languages.

We should care – a lot – about our foreign language deficit. We need diplomats, intelligence and foreign policy experts, politicians, military leaders, business leaders, scientists, physicians, entrepreneurs, managers, technicians, historians, artists, and writers who are proficient in languages other than English. And we need them to read and speak less commonly taught languages (for which funding has recently been cut by the federal government) that are essential to our strategic and economic interests, such as Farsi, Bengali, Vietnamese, Burmese and Indonesian.

There have been some positive recent developments:

– Over the past decade, the Chicago Public Schools have expanded instruction in Chinese to include 43 schools and serve 12,000 students. Many of these students are Hispanic and will be trilingual.

– The Arlington, Virginia, public schools offer after-school instruction in Chinese and Arabic to middle and high school students.

– Columbia, Yale and Cornell are developing video-conferencing courses to share – and spread – instruction in less-taught languages.

But we need to do more. Much more. We ask parents to urge their children to attain proficiency in a foreign language, whether or not schools require them to do so; PTAs to lobby school boards; faculty members and deans in colleges and universities to re-visit foreign language requirements; readers of Forbes to write to their elected representatives.

The message is simple: in 1957, after the Russians launched Sputnik, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act, which provided federal support for foreign language instruction as well as science education. We may not be quite as frightened as we were during the height of the Cold War, but we must be just as resolute in designing a comprehensive approach to foreign language acquisition that will prepare the next generation of Americans for success in a highly competitive, tightly interconnected world.

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