Here is an essay by Dunwoody High School language teacher Clarissa Adams Fletcher on the importance of learning a second language.
Last year, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages named Fletcher its National
Language Teacher of the Year.
By Clarissa Adams Fletcher
Although many Georgians seek employment, many, unfortunately, lack the skills necessary for this new economy. Ask any employer what they are looking for in an employee and you will notice similarities. Many want what has been named 21st century skills – communication, critical thinking, problem solving skills, creativity and innovation.
Learning a second language in an extended sequence (more than three years, ideally starting in elementary school) develops and enhances these essential job skills. While communication in the new language is developing, the learner’s own communicative language is enhanced as well. Moreover, the ability to view others in terms of their cultural perspectives and adapt to cultural differences are additional benefits developed through language study. As one former student now living in South America, writes, “Language is not just a mechanism for communication, it is the soul of a place and its people.”
Now that Georgia has received a reprieve from the No Child Left Behind mandates, we have the opportunity to create a k-12 education system that answers the cries of skills, skills, skills in response to jobs, jobs, jobs. It is precisely the lack of 21st century and linguistic skills that hinders us from creating globally competent employees.
The creation of career-ready students and career pathways is the new stimulus in Georgia. I maintain that regardless of the career pathway chosen, foreign language study is a benefit and will enhance students’ opportunities and marketability, creating opportunities that perhaps have not yet been invented. Yet, our students will be poised to take advantage of the opportunities due to skills acquired through learning a second language.
Quite often we, as educators, may not be able to prepare students for a specific career or job, but we can help them to develop the necessary skills. I call them portable skills – communication, creativity, innovation, critical thinking — those skills that transfer to any sector.
Languages, the ability to communicate with others and have a cultural understanding of what, how and why one makes a decision, is an intangible. Nevertheless, it is an intangible that enables one to make the correct business decision so that you are able to close the deal. In addition, research indicates that students that have studied languages score higher on standardized tests that are the current measuring tool.
I contacted former students and asked them how language study benefited them in school and whether it helped in their career. While there were those who indicated that they enjoyed languages but had not incorporated them in their daily routine, the majority indicated that they used language quite frequently. Not one of these students went on to be a language teacher, interpreter or diplomat – traditional career pathways for language students. Yet, language has empowered them, created opportunities unique to speakers of multiple languages and affected their point of view. Moreover, they combined languages with sciences, business, non-profit organizations and other areas, including becoming entrepreneurs.
One of my former students wrote, “ But I never thought when I was sitting in Señora Adams class more than 10 years ago, that today I would be using Spanish everyday,” and another, “I took numerous Spanish classes at Furman, and I found that my strong foundation in the language from my high school classes helped me enormously in college classes.”
Look at the evidence that they present to prove that they indeed are making progress in speaking a second language. Our students created digital portfolios that they can use to offer as evidence of what they can do.
I ask you to write your board of education members, congressmen and the secretary of education. Ask them to support language education, but not with words and rhetoric, but with actions. Encourage the children in your life to learn a new language. Let’s ensure the next generation of Georgia children have globally competitive skills and are ready for 21st century jobs. Our children are depending on you.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog