Monthly Archives: April 2013

Educator Takes Teaching Japanese to a New Level

Article by Julie E. Greene for, April 28, 2013:

Ayako Shiga knows how difficult it can be to learn a foreign language.

When she was growing up in Tokyo, she failed her first semester of English in middle school.

During a break that semester, she went to visit her father in Australia and couldn’t answer the waiter when he asked her, in English, how old she was, because she didn’t understand the question.

Shiga said that last experience motivated her to learn English and apply to be a high school exchange student in America.

Today, she puts to work her own experiences learning a difficult foreign language by helping Boonsboro High School students learn Japanese. Shiga — Washington County Public Schools’ only Japanese language teacher — was named the school system’s 2013-14 Teacher of the Year on April 17.

The award is sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“When I was in high school and when I came here as an exchange student, I wasn’t a successful learner, I felt. I felt I could have done better,” Shiga said.

As a result, Shiga said, she thought there were ways she could make learning easier for others.

“And that’s when I decided to become a language teacher,” said Shiga, 35, who lives in Chambersburg, Pa.

She began her study of applied linguistics at the University of Hawaii, then earned a master’s degree, for teaching English as a second language, from Hawaii Pacific University.

After teaching in Hawaii for more than a year, she moved to the Tri-State area to be closer to her boyfriend — now her fiance — and got a job with Washington County Public Schools in 2004 teaching English to students for whom English was a second language.

In 2005, Shiga’s supervisor asked her if she would be interested in starting a Japanese language program for the school system.

Shiga said she’d always wanted to teach Japanese, though it was hard work establishing the program. She worked on the curriculum and assessments, and advocated for the program while continuing to teach English. She also spent three summers studying at Columbia University to earn a second master’s degree, this one in Japanese pedagogy.

During the Japanese language program’s first year, in 2006-07, Shiga had about 30 students at Boonsboro High.

Now, she teaches Japanese to about 100 students a year.

That is approximately 10 percent of the students in Maryland public schools who are studying Japanese, according to a Maryland State Department of Education world language enrollment report.

“Japanese is definitely a difficult language to learn,” Shiga said. The U.S. Department of Defense classified Japanese, along with languages such as Arabic and Chinese, as category IV languages, the most difficult to learn, she said.

“I’m excited to see how many students are learning Japanese, despite the challenge,” said Shiga, who is to begin teaching an advanced placement Japanese class in the next school year.

Her own classroom

It wasn’t until last school year that Shiga got her own classroom — a former computer lab — to teach Japanese, she said. Before that, she took her materials around on a cart at Boonsboro High.

She has adorned the room with decorative curtains from Japan, calligraphy and various posters and signs with Japanese characters, and letters from students in the school’s sister-school in Japan.

Community members have donated to the class items, including pictures from stays in Japan, Shiga said.

Last week, the classroom held various congratulatory items, including a banner from Annie Anders’ third-grade magnet class at Boonsboro Elementary Magnet School for Global Awareness and World Languages.

Shiga and her students work with students at Boonsboro Middle and Boonsboro-area elementary schools. They share information about the Japanese language and culture at after-school events and meet with younger students who are studying Japan.

Earlier this month, Anders took her students to Shiga’s classroom to deliver the banner after Shiga was nominated for teacher of the year, Anders said.

During that visit, Anders’ students visited stations the high school students had set up so they could teach the younger students about different aspects of Japanese culture, Anders said.

“She’s brought the Japanese culture to life, really. … Every time I go there, she tells me a story about her life,” Anders said.

“My students want to take Japanese,” Anders said. “It’s a great way to goal-set for their future.”

‘Easy to learn’

During a visit last week to Shiga’s Japanese I class, the students appeared to be enjoying different activities she set up so they could review what they had learned.

“She reviews a lot. She doesn’t just teach us something and then move on,” said Katy McCarthy, 15.

Groups of students played a board game Shiga adapted so students could have fun while conjugating Japanese verbs. Their classmates would let them know whether they got it right.

“We do a lot of activities … We don’t even realize we’re learning it because it’s just activities,” said Allyson Sikes, 14.

Shiga said she focuses on what her students can do with the language, rather than on just having them conjugate verbs or translate English into Japanese.

After playing the game, the students reviewed their homework.

Shiga had given them drawings for which they were to write a description in Japanese characters. Students took turns writing their answers on the white board in the front of the class. Then their classmates pointed out which answers were correct and which needed tweaking.

Later, Shiga used an iPad and her finger to draw Japanese characters. Her drawings appeared on the screen in front of the class for students to interpret.

“She makes it easy to learn because she’s such a great teacher,” said freshman Brent Leone, 14.

Brent said Shiga talks to students about continuing their education and about how learning Japanese and getting into the Japanese Honor Society can help them earn scholarships.

Another world

Shiga’s class isn’t just about learning the language or even the culture of Japan.

In little and big ways, Shiga encourages her students to explore the world outside of Boonsboro or southern Washington County.

Japanese IV students compete almost annually in the spring National Japan Bowl, an academic competition that tests their knowledge of Japanese language and culture. The contest is organized by the Japan-America Society in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Last year, instead of participating in the academic competition, the students built a replica of a nonreligious portable shrine, which they carried in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade in Washington, D.C.

“While she was a tough teacher, she always encouraged us to look into the cultural side” of Japan, said Boonsboro High graduate Caitlin Wolfe, who spent a semester in Tokyo in 2010 for her international studies major at Washington College.

Shiga saw Wolfe while both were in Japan that summer.

“Such a proud moment to see the former student being able to function and do well in the country,” Shiga said.

Wolfe said Shiga taught her to be thorough in her research and to not be afraid to try to say something in Japanese for fear of making a mistake, because “that’s how you learn.”

Shiga also arranged a trip to Japan, which five students took in 2012.

Her Japanese IV students were planning to take the trip in 2011, but the great earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 delayed the trip. The students donated the money they raised for the trip to earthquake relief efforts in Japan.

Shiga spoke to Japanese government officials during the summer of 2011, letting them know students in Western Maryland were studying Japanese language and culture. The governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, visited the local high school that fall.

He thanked the students for their earthquake relief donation and formalized a “sister school” arrangement with a high school in his prefecture.

Shiga said she is planning another student trip to Japan in 2014.

Shiga will have an assistant teacher from Japan for the next two school years after securing a $100,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, which has an office in California, and the Laurasian Institution, which has an office in Seattle.

In August, students from the Iwate Prefecture will visit Boonsboro High, Shiga said. Iwate was one of the areas most devastated by the 2011 earthquake, she said.

To welcome the students, Shiga’s students have been practicing singing “Hana wa Saku,” a song that has been used to commemorate the anniversaries of the earthquake.

Boonsboro High Principal Peggy Pugh said Shiga is a phenomenal teacher who has provided some students who haven’t even traveled to Baltimore or Washington, D.C., with the opportunity to learn about Japanese culture.

“For them to be able to study about and experience a whole (other) culture that far away is intriguing to the students. It’s also important to broaden their experiences outside of the Boonsboro area,” Pugh said.

Leave a comment

Filed under articles

Dual Language Programs Prepare Students for a Global Society

Tara Garcia Mathewson for, April 28, 2013:

Most kids get excited about pizza and cupcakes when their parents let them host birthday parties. Chase Dorn always preferred sushi and seaweed.

The 15-year-old Conant High School sophomore wants to go into law and work for a Japanese company. And while she has no Japanese heritage, she speaks the language fluently, impressing natives with how accurate her accent is.

“People are always so surprised when I tell them I speak Japanese,” Chase says. “It’s always going to be a good asset. It’s become a big part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Chase’s connection to Japanese language and culture was cemented over eight years in one of the nation’s only Japanese-English dual language programs, which started at Dooley Elementary School in Schaumburg in 2001.

Modern dual language programs have taken off in the past five to eight years, said Edward Tabet-Cubero, deputy director of Dual Language Education of New Mexico, a nonprofit technical assistance center that works with school districts across the country to implement dual language programs. He has been helping Elgin Area School District U-46 with its nearly unprecedented rollout of Spanish/English instruction, the planning for which started about three years ago.

Districts in Carpentersville, Crystal Lake, Mundelein, Elk Grove, Naperville, Vernon Hills and Woodstock also have dual language programs at various stages of development. Most offer Spanish and English as the program languages, but Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 also have programs in Chinese and English.

Educators and parents are increasingly seeing bilingualism as an asset, forcing program expansion across the region and creating waiting lists for the first time.

“It’s about changing the mindset of this as a remedial program for immigrant students to an enrichment program for all students to be competitive in a global marketplace,” Tabet-Cubero said.
Dual learning

The majority of dual language programs across the suburbs serve half non-English speakers and half English speakers. Schaumburg’s District 54 launched its first dual language program for Spanish speakers in 1994 but created the Japanese program at Dooley Elementary School at a time when Japanese was the second-most-common foreign language spoken.

For the two-way dual language programs, as they’re called, districts always strive to keep an even balance of students learning each language.

But both suburban Chinese programs are designed for an entire class of English speakers to learn the language, and U-46 leads the way in offering one-way dual language classes for its Spanish speaking students to become academically competent in reading, writing and speaking their first language as well as English.

The shift has been a sea change in the way U-46 approaches education for its English Language Learners. And everyone who discusses the ambitious expansion of dual language in the Elgin area district points to leadership by Superintendent José Torres as the reason for it.

“In the United States, we’ve had a schizophrenic policy that says let’s make sure all kids who don’t speak English learn English, and then when they get to high school they have to take a foreign language,” Torres said.

Torres, who grew up in Puerto Rico, spoke Spanish first and said he learned English most efficiently when he had support in his native language at the same time he was learning new concepts. As an educator, he was convinced by research showing dual language as the only program for English Language Learners that closes the achievement gap. In turn Torres pushed his staff members to offer one-way dual language to Spanish speakers in 29 elementary schools last year.

U-46 also offered two-way dual language classes in seven of those schools, increasing that number to 16 this year — and that’s compared to most districts that offer just one or two classrooms of dual language per grade level.

Both types of programs are expanding to higher grade levels in U-46 as the enrolled students age through the program — a common pace for growth across the region. Fourth-grade teachers had two days of intensive professional development Wednesday and Thursday with another session scheduled in May to help shift their teaching from a format that preferences English to one that values Spanish and English equally.

Andrea Gaitan, a teacher at Hilltop Elementary School in Elgin, said she is excited for her students to be able to see the value in their native language. They will be called “emerging bilinguals” instead of “English Language Learners,” she said.
Preparing for life

Community Unit District 220 in Barrington started offering Spanish and English dual language classes in 2004 and added a Chinese immersion program in Mandarin last year. Officials in Barrington and Schaumburg both said the decision to include Chinese options for students was in recognition of China’s global power and growing influence.

Districts want their students to be ready to effectively navigate a world in which it is increasingly important to communicate beyond national borders.

But for Becky Wiegel, a bilingual instructional coach and soon-to-be dual language summer school principal, the benefits of the growing program stretch beyond just language acquisition.

“It’s about the cognitive brain development that comes along with it,” Wiegel said. “When students speak two languages, their brains work better. That’s been proven in research.”

Districts with programs entering their second decades have plenty of test scores to back up anecdotal reports by parents and teachers about dual language students’ high achievement.

Julie Colgrove, director of language and culture for Schaumburg’s District 54, said MAP and ISAT results have consistently shown dual language students performing at the same levels or above their peers. Even the young Chinese immersion students who started last year scored exceedingly well, Colgrove said.

That has been a factor in the increasing demand for the program.

Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Hoffman Estates is now an entirely dual language school where kindergarten students have only the option of learning in Spanish and English.

“The demand for dual language has steadily increased over the years to the point that there were minimal numbers of kindergarten students who didn’t want dual language,” Colgrove said.
What comes next?

For many schools, the next stage of dual language planning will be moving beyond elementary and middle school curriculums.

Chase Dorn, the 15-year-old Japanese speaker, said the height of her fluency was in sixth through eighth grades. At the high school level she doesn’t have options to challenge her study of Japanese.

Chase is working with Dooley Elementary School Principal Marion Friebus-Flaman to flesh out opportunities for the dual language program graduates coming behind her. She will present her ideas April 29 at the Schaumburg Library and again in May at Conant High School’s Gifted Expo.

Several districts also are in the process of creating challenging Spanish language classes at the high school level that will allow their students to spend half of their days speaking Spanish even after they age out of formal dual language programs.

District 54’s Colgrove said moving forward with dual language education is a must.

“We will do our students and our children a disservice if we don’t promote language learning while they’re young and help them as they prepare for their future in the global world and the global economy,” Colgrove said. “It’s so important.”

Leave a comment

Filed under articles

Polyglot Indonesia: Honing Foreign Language Skills

Here’s some good advice on how to maintain and expand your language skills. Article by Nani Afrida in The Jakarta Post, April 16, 2013:

Arradi Nur Rizal could speak Spanish after living in Argentina for a year. As a fellow in a student exchange program, learning to speak the local language was a must.

Unfortunately, after he returned to Indonesia, Rizal lost some of his speaking ability, as he didn’t have any friends to practice with.

“I had not spoken Spanish for six years and I lost so much vocabulary as a result,” Rizal told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.

He said he did not want that to happen to others who had learned a foreign language but had nowhere to practice. Rizal and some friends who agreed decided to establish the Polyglot Indonesia community. A polyglot is someone who can speak several languages.

In Polyglot Indonesia, people who can speak several languages can meet up and practice.

Rizal believes learning a language is not easy because it requires serious study and a lot of effort. Meeting people with a similar interest in learning languages and continuing to practice is important to developing language skills.

“People in Indonesia often look down on language skills, even though many people still have the spirit to learn foreign languages, to be a polyglot,” Rizal said.

Polyglot Indonesia was established in June 2012. It is the second polyglot group in the country after a similar community was established in Yogyakarta in 2010.

However, the managers of Yogyakarta’s polyglot group received scholarships overseas and the community was abandoned temporarily.

“Now, Polyglot Yogyakarta has merged with Polyglot Indonesia and we do many activities together,” Rizal said.

The establishment of a polyglot community has drawn the attention of youth throughout the country. Besides Indonesians, foreigners have also signed up to learn Indonesian.

The community now has at least 4,000 members, according to its Facebook page, mostly those who want to practice their language skills.

The community targets three groups of people: those who have learned a foreign language abroad and are trying to maintain proficiency, those who want to improve their foreign conversational language level by practicing with native speakers, or those who want to practice their Indonesian and want to help others learn their native tongue.

“This group is fantastic for helping us develop our language skills,” Shinta, a student of Japanese literature at the University of Indonesia, said.

According to Shinta, learning with others will help enrich her Japanese proficiency.

“By practicing a lot I will not be awkward speaking or writing,” she said. “Besides, I will get more new friends who have similar interests.”

Ihtiar Nur, the Polyglot Indonesia coordinator for English and Indonesian, said the community held regular gatherings.

“We are trying to hold a gathering once a month and in the future it will be once every two weeks,” Ihtiar said, adding that currently the gatherings were once every three months.

At polyglot gatherings, members practice their language skills with other members. So far, Polyglot Indonesia has seven language desk coordinators for English, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

There are two kinds of gatherings, those among members of the same language desk or among members of different desks.

For instance, in a gathering of Italian and Spanish desks, coordinators will set up two areas, one for Italian and the other for Spanish. Members should be able to speak in Italian when they sit at the Italian desk and in Spanish at the Spanish desk.

“The members spend 15 minutes sitting at each desk. This is the way polyglot changes languages,” Rizal explained.

According to Rizal, Polyglot Indonesia provides an environment in which people can practice languages without being intimidated.

“We expect people to share knowledge and improve their speaking skills,” he said.

However, people require only some language knowledge before joining their gatherings.

“We recommend members who join the meet-ups are those who can speak the language at a certain level, because for beginners it will be difficult,” Ihtiar said.

But beginners do not need to worry, because they can also start learning through Facebook, Twitter and the Polyglot Indonesia website.

Ihtiar, for instance, wants to learn Spanish but does not have enough ability to join meet-ups with other polyglots.

“I study the language by myself. I know that Polyglot is not a place to learn basic language,” he said, laughing.

The freelancer has been living in Sweden for two years, but cannot speak Swedish.

“All Swedes speak English, so I can speak English instead of Swedish,” he said.

As the founder of Polyglot Indonesia, Rizal believes Indonesians have the ability to learn many languages. “Indonesians are easy learners of new things because they are tough, dynamic and curious. They also have talent as they speak various languages, including local languages.”

Some tips on learning foreign languages

• Speak using simple structured sentences and easy vocabulary.

• If you are shy speaking face to face, you can use Skype or g-talk.

• To enrich vocabulary, listen to live or streaming radio, or songs in the new language.

• Always be confident.

• Try to find something interesting about the culture or country of the language.

• Focus on interlocutors’ gestures. It will help you to understand the message.

• Try to practice as much as you can because language is something developed if used often.

• Never be afraid of making a mistake.

• Join groups that have a similar interest.

Leave a comment

Filed under articles

British Diplomats and Foreign Language Skills: Some Brushing Up Required

Article written by David Blair and Alex Spillius for The Telegraph, April 19, 2013:

The current system may not produce enough diplomats with the “skills and credibility needed to command respect”, warns the report from the foreign affairs select committee.

In 2000, the Labour government dropped language skills as a criterion for promotion from one grade to the next, concentrating instead on “managerial” and “leadership” ability.

Mr Hague has criticised his predecessors for neglecting the importance of British diplomats learning difficult languages. Since becoming Foreign Secretary in 2010, he has decided to reopen the Foreign Office language school and increased the amount spent on linguistic training from £3 million in 2010 to £3.9 million last year. But he has left the old promotion rules unchanged.

The select committee urged him to restore language skills as a criterion for advancement. “When you’ve got a half a dozen guys going for one job, if one is at the top of the frame for language skills, that should count for something,” said Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the committee. “We’re just trying to give the government a nudge here. We think it’s important that language ability is reflected in promotion criteria.”

Sir Ivor Roberts, a former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Italy and Ireland, said that no envoy could do the job properly without speaking the local language. “Your job is to represent Britain directly and not simply to filter your message through the foreign ministry or a national capital. Direct engagement through TV and radio is an essential part of your job. If you can’t give interviews in a foreign language, then you’re not able to do that.”

Rory Stewart, a Conservative member of the select committee and a former diplomat, said that Mr Hague was “committed” to restoring the institutional strength of the Foreign Office, but “it will be a long hard fight to change the culture, because many modern diplomats have risen in the new system”.

Mr Hague responded to the report by stressing that language skills were a vital factor in selections for many foreign posts. The Foreign Secretary added: “As a result of the changes we have introduced we will have 40 per cent more speakers of Mandarin and Arabic in our posts overseas than in 2010.”

Leave a comment

Filed under articles

Could Pictographs Eliminate Foreign Language Learning?

Anne Merritt for The Telegraph, April 9, 2013:

From Esperanto to SaypU writing, linguists have been trying simplify communication between cultures. Usually, these initiatives only produce small followings.

The thing is, there’s a system that can already surpass language barriers and communicate information: the pictograph.

The simple pictograph, seen in prehistoric cave drawings, refined in the scripts of ancient Egypt and Sumer, and still referenced today in written Chinese and Japanese. Now, thanks to digital communication (emojis, emoticons) and commonplace signage (the man/woman icon for “toilet”), pictographs are replacing the written word. According to some linguists, this trend will only increase.

In all parts of the world, people refer to pictographs daily. Public buildings use picture-based signs to direct visitors to the elevators, cafeterias, and lavatories. Cashiers at many fast food chains have pictographic registers, clicking on pictures of burgers and fries to input orders. Even popular game apps such as Angry Birds are languageless programs, guiding users with arrows and other icons.

Some linguists are predicting that this will be the future of language. Not a global lingua franca of English (or Mandarin, or Spanish), nor an overhaul of the written word to accommodate foreign language learners. Instead, as communication becomes more digital and visual, we will see more pictures in the place of written language.

Nowadays, pictographs are standardised in international transit hubs like airports and train stations. As these places expand their services, new icons are being created. Look around an airport and you’ll see wordless signs showing where to use wifi, get a shoe shine, or find the nearest bar. International travellers can navigate any airport thanks to these pictographs.

As communities become more multicultural, and as tourism increases, these icons will likely expand into urban areas. In 10 or 20 years, we will be able to navigate city maps, use a bank machine, order meals in restaurants… all without language barriers, or any written language at all.

The question is, if we can reduce language barriers in everyday situations, to what extent do we reduce the incentive for language learning? If we can navigate a foreign place with signs and pictures, doesn’t language study become a waste of time?

An increase in pictographs could certainly make travel easier, helping foreign visitors navigate cities and sites without worrying about communication breakdowns. It could also help immigrants and expats find the amenities they need when they first arrive in their adopted country of residence. For stopover tourists, or overwhelmed newcomers, these images can definitely reduce the urgency of language learning.

But while pictographs may help a person get around with minimal stress, they don’t really help human interaction. Most tourists I’ve met feel frustrated and embarrassed, pointing at pictures and making caveman-like noises to express a basic thought.

Also, while those travelling abroad may have less incentive to learn the local tongue, tourism isn’t the only motive for language learning. Many young Britons learn foreign languages as a career tool, and the demand for this job skill is increasing. Multinational companies seek workers with foreign language business skills, which means speaking, writing, and other communication. Even if pictographic signs pop up on every building in the country, the tourism industry will still look to hire staff that can talk to or correspond with foreign visitors.

Pictographs may help a multilingual community understand public signage in their area. It may simplify the use of automated machines like cashpoints and parking metres. When it comes to communicating with other people though, for work or pleasure, it can’t replace the old fashioned skill of knowing a foreign language.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New York Teenager Learns Twenty Languages in Only Four Years

What an incredible story! And I thought that my learning five was unusual! Here’s the article written by Michael Walsh for the Daily News, April 12, 2013:

Most teens stuggle to master a few sentences in Hebrew for their bar mitzvahs.

Not Timothy Doner, now 17. He began studying Hebrew — and then taught himself about 19 more languages in the four years that followed.

Doner is what is known as a polyglot — someone who speaks many different languages. While this is common in many parts of the world it is extremely rare in the U.S. where most people speak one language, or two at most.

His uncanny ability with language led him to produce YouTube videos about his experiences and these have garnered a huge fan base in the past year.

One of his videos has already been viewed a million times.

“I’m just frankly happy that it’s garnering attention for language learning or for people to start learning about different cultures,” Doner told the Daily News.

He has since been working on adding a few more to this already impressive list. But with so many languages on the tip of his tongue, how does Doner practice them all?

“I really don’t have time to practice everything every day. But in general it’s what I like to do and I’m happy doing it,” he said.
Doner introduces himself in Hausa, a Chadic language that is widely spoken in West and Central Africa.

Doner introduces himself in Hausa, a Chadic language that is widely spoken in West and Central Africa.

Doner is exceptionally articulate but modest about his gifts — and sometimes fears he might one day lose his remarkable aptitude.

That’s because there is a linguistic theory that holds that there is a critical period for language learning — when you are young.

“The theory basically states that starting between the ages of nine and 12, your ability to comfortably and fluidly pick up a foreign language diminishes with regard to phonology, syntactic processing or whatever it may be,” he said.

One of the things that is most unusual about Doner is that he did not even begin to acquire all of his languages until the very end of that window. In fact, he had been a middling language student at best. He started learning French in the third grade and Latin in seventh but never found either particularly compelling.

But studying for his bar mitzvah sparked something in him. His interest in speaking Modern Hebrew quickly broadened to include Israeli movies and music. For a period, he only listened to rap or electronica from Israeli artists — committing his favorite songs to memory and parroting them, as teens so often do.

As his ability in Hebrew grew he became interested in other languages. The summer before ninth grade, Doner attended an Arabic program at Brigham Young University.

“Learning Arabic was born out of my interest in Hebrew and Middle Eastern culture and history,” he said. “From Arabic, I went onto more or less everything else. That was the key in the beginning.”

Most of the languages Doner speaks come from places that are not as prominent in the American consciousness as Western European languages, such as Pashto (the official language of Afghanistan) or Swahili (the lingua franca throughout much of East Africa).

Many of his fans from other parts of the world are simply astonished and delighted to hear someone who grew up talking English speak their languages at all.
Although Doner started studying French at eight, he never truly fell for its charms until he was a teenager.

Although Doner started studying French at eight, he never truly fell for its charms until he was a teenager.

“We don’t learn a lot about Arab or Islamic history in school,” Doner said. “And I think that by learning languages you are effectively learning a lot more. You are learning about the culture, everything from cooking to TV to poetry to politics to whatever it may be. And I think that fosters a much better understanding.”

Donner is often asked if he thinks his aptitude is innate, learned or a little bit of both — but he really is not sure. All he knows is that acquiring more languages feels easier as he goes along.

“You start to get more familiar with different grammatical systems, different ways of idiomatically speaking, different pronunciation systems,” he explained. “And of course, also, they bleed into each other… I think a lot of it has to do with getting through that brick wall of learning your first language.”

Doner just finished the SATs and does not know where he wants to go to college just yet. He is considering a career in translation or working abroad in general. But he can also imagine himself teaching languages here in the U.S.

“I’ve seen from language courses in my school,” he said, “that there are very effective ways of teaching people languages and it is something that can pretty easily be replicated, to a large degree.”

Doner fears that too much language instruction focuses overwhelmingly on grammar study because not all people share his zeal for syntax. He thinks many would-be linguists are discouraged when teachers present foreign language as a sterile, cold subject.

He often gets messages from strangers who struggled with Spanish or French in high school but are inspired to try again or try a completely different language after watching his videos. He tries to write back to everyone he can with tips or advice and helps people on Skype regularly.

“Try to make the language fun,” he suggested. “If you love Jazz or R&B, listen to that kind of music in the target language. Anything you can do to make it relevant and interesting in your own life is definitely a positive step forward.”

Leave a comment

Filed under articles

Parents in Arlington, Virginia, Mobilize for Foreign Language Program at Elementary School

Jason Spenser in, April 2, 2013:

A group of Tuckahoe Elementary School parents is mobilizing in hopes of bringing foreign language instruction to their school.

The parents, who have gathered nearly 100 names on an online petition, are making the case that students who move from Tuckahoe to Swanson Middle School are suddenly surrounded by classmates who have had years of instruction. The inequity drives their argument.

“Foreign languages is a core subject in schools. You would never teach any other core subject the way that the world languages get taught now — half get math and half don’t, half get English and half don’t,” said Einar Olsen, who has a second- and fifth-grader at Tuckahoe.

“It’s a pretty poor situation. It’s sort of an educational malpractice situation, where half of the people are getting the attention and half are not.”

Nine Arlington elementary schools currently do not have the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, or FLES, program. Adding a single school would cost $450,000, spokesman Frank Bellavia told Patch.

This is a tight budget year. Proposed cuts already would eliminate gifted services teachers at all three of the county’s high schools and consolidate the teen parenting program. And the school board already has asked the county government for an extra $3 million to help cover the costs of skyrocketing student enrollment.

“Regardless of the budget, it is an inequity at this point,” said Tuckahoe parent Kelly Alexis. “And that’s what we’re focused on. We cannot have children in the same school system, half having this program and half not; this cannot continue.”

She added: “Parents want to work collaboratively with Tuckahoe staff to make Tuckahoe a FLES success story.”


Parents have organized to contract two small foreign language programs at Tuckahoe — one French, one Spanish — that meet occasionally. Enrolling in one of those programs costs $550.

But, “Absent some financial commitment by the parents, there is no foreign language program at our elementary school,” said Rosemary Filou, who has two first-graders at Tuckahoe.

“These (other) schools have it and we don’t. And everyone knows in order for a child to gain proficiency in a language it’s important for the them to start as early as possible.”

Tuckahoe, Glebe, Key, McKinley, Arlington Science Focus and parts of Taylor, Ashlawn and Barrett feed students into Swanson Middle School.

Of those, Tuckahoe, Taylor and Arlington Science Focus do not have a Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program. The others do.

An adopted Arlington School Board value states, “All APS students should be proficient in at least two languages upon graduation and should have access to world language proficiency programs regardless of school of attendance.”

Who Benefits?

The issue has come up before. Kathy Mimberg, whose son is now in sixth grade at Swanson Middle after getting his early education at Tuckahoe, started working on it about six years ago.

Over the years, information forums have been held. Officials from the school system and neighboring schools have spoken to parents. Parents and teachers have been surveyed. The effort now, in some ways, is to revive the issue.

“What my family is facing now is what I had been concerned about,” Mimberg said. “My son is at Swanson, and we just did class schedule for next year. He’ll be taking Spanish for the first time ever. His peers, who went to Ashlawn, McKinley and Glebe, those schools all have FLES.”

She added: “Who does this benefit? Because he has not taken Spanish and they have.”

Students may choose to take a different language once they get to middle school, Bellavia told Patch in an email. “They may decide that they want to take Arabic or Chinese or something else instead of Spanish,” he said.

Superintendent Pat Murphy listed the expansion of the school system’s Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program as an “unfunded priority” in his budget — something that would be important to fund if dollars became available.

“This year we faced a $25 million shortfall, and there simply was no funding available to expanding the number of FLES schools. We do remain committed to the program, however, and anticipate that in the coming years, the program will be expanded,” Murphy’s chief of staff, Michael Korff, told Alexis in an email obtained by Patch.

The Arlington School Board will hold a work session on its proposed budget at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and a public hearing on the $520.4 million spending plan at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Leave a comment

Filed under articles