Dunwoody language teacher: Learning a second language is vital

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.”

I invite you to view the Dunwoody High School student Learn and Discover Language video, which just won a national award from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

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

80 comments Add your comment

Way to go Clarissa!

June 8th, 2012
6:10 am

Your video of your students showcasing their language skills is great! You represented Georgia and the nation well last year as the National Language Teacher of the Year and as a fellow language teacher, I admire you and hope to continue to grow and improve each year so I can become a fantastic language teacher too!

drew (former teacher)

June 8th, 2012
6:22 am

While I agree that speaking a second language is an important and beneficial skill, I question our schools’ ability to produce students who can speak fluently in any foreign language. How many of us took (insert foreign language here) in HS, and maybe college also, and promptly forgot what we learned? I had two years of Spanish in HS, and another in college, with good grades, but all that got me was the ability to correctly pronounce the names of the menu items at my favorite local mexican restaurant. Seriously, is there anyone out there who learned to communicate fluently in a second language from one or two years of high school language classes?

To truly learn a foreign language, one must either put in MANY hours of independent study/practice ( and there are lots of independent programs out there to assist in this), or better yet, immersion into a culture where the language to be learned is the primary language.

In other words, short of spending an inordinate amount of classroom time learning/practicing, or placing students in costly immersion programs, public schools cannot and will not produce students who communicate fluently in another language. Hell, they can’t even produce students who can communicate fluently in English!

Students learning a second language = good.
Public schools accomplishing the task = delusional.

Plus, as far as I know, foreign language isn’t tested, and as we all know, if it’s not on the test, it’s not important!

BTW…Maureen, when do you sleep? ;-)

bootney farnsworth

June 8th, 2012
6:48 am

@ Drew,

the point of language study at the HS level is to create a foundation to build on, not to become
fluent. even in immersion classes, it takes time. even in fancy private schools like Westminster it takes time.

1-2 years of HS study doesn’t make anyone “fluent” in anything. Not math, not chemistry, nothing.
using that criticism as a basis for judging schools, they all should be shut down. every one, everywhere

Max Lingua

June 8th, 2012
7:12 am

@ Drew:

I agree that most schools do not and cannot produce fluent students after a few years of study. The issue is mainly money. One has to have it in order to study abroad, which is what Americans need to do to become fluent in a language. Generally speaking, we have absolutely no contact with a second language throughout our lives in the US. Spanish-speaking TV and people are accessible, but there is the sense that English speakers are not expected to know Spanish, so everyone speaks English by default. That said, teaching foreign languages in school serves as a springboard for those who can afford to study abroad and do it, which is what I did, and my life and perspective have been forever changed because of it. For most Americans, I believe learning a foreign language is less a matter of acquiring hard skill set and more a matter a shaping one’s character and general intelligence. That makes us all better citizens and consumers of information in the long run.

Dunwoody Mom

June 8th, 2012
7:21 am

Senora Adams-Fletcher was such an inspiration to my oldest child that she continued on through AP Spanish and has decided to minor in Spanish at UGA. I remember Senora making the statement that teaching is not a job, but a calling. She certain inspires her students to go beyond what they learn in the classroom.

Grayson Mom

June 8th, 2012
7:47 am

Two of my children leaned to speak Spanish well by working in a place with Spanish speaking employees. I agree that the best way to learn another language is to be immersed in it. I am sure that there are plenty of folks that will request that the taxpayers foot the bill to send high school students or even younger off for the summer to provide it.

redweather

June 8th, 2012
8:08 am

Way back in the Dark Ages when I was attending public school, I took two languages–French and Latin. My French studies began in the seventh grade and continued to the end of the eleventh grade. I took Latin in the tenth and eleventh grades.

My knowledge of Latin was never more than rudimentary, but I can still read French to this day, forty years after graduating from high school. And even though I never advanced very far with Latin, the study of both languages has always helped me figure out the meaning of new words since English is loaded with French and Latin roots.

Anonmom

June 8th, 2012
8:08 am

My oldest child received a smattering of foreign language from age 5 until 4th grade when he began to receive regular Hebrew and Spanish. My younger two began Hebrew and Spanish a few times a week in Kindergarten. My younger two are much better in the following skills: math (which my oldest is also very good at — he is entering 3rd year college engineering but his brothers are better at it); music (again, the older child is good – he plays piano and guitar competently but won’t perform publicly — his brothers perform publicly — one on piano and trumpet and the other is an excellent singer and competent on piano) and foreign language (the oldest wound up with 3 years of Latin – the younger two by virtue of where they have landed will have AP language as juniors in high school and will take post-AP college level language as seniors and both plan to continue to study their language — one French; one Spanish — in college — both began “level 1″ in 7th grade — but began behind their classmates who began, in private school, serious study in 6th grade). I firmly believe that the difference between my oldest and his younger brothers has to to with some studies I have read about neurons in the brain (this isn’t my field and I understand very little about this but I’ve seen some articles and my household supports this theory) that connect when the kids are exposed to foreign language at a very young age — I believe that the exposure to both Hebrew and Spanish in early elementary school for the younger two gave them a distinct advantage in math, music and further language study and I’ve studies to support this. This isn’t to say that the fact that they have relatively high IQs doesn’t also help but I wasn’t exposed to language early on and although I loved French, it was much harder for me to learn and didn’t come as naturally. My oldest had a really hard time with Spanish in later elementary school even though he is very smart and he needed a Hebrew tutor for a while — foreign language was hard for him — although I think Latin was awesome and he did pretty well with that (personally — I love Latin — it’s the root of everything — I think it should be taught to all kids in elementary school).

skipper

June 8th, 2012
8:26 am

Don’t take this the wrong way, but SOME in the APS need to learn a first language!!!!!!

dteacher

June 8th, 2012
8:26 am

Congrats to your and your students’ achievements, Clarissa. As a fellow Georgia and DCSS teacher, though, I’m frustrated by the fact that we would even have to advocate for language classes that help foster the 21st century communication and thinking skills our students need. It’s especially disheartening to know that the very people in charge of Dekalb’s “victory” for every student and “excellence in education” are the ones considering/who considered (?) dismantling some of Dekalb’s language programs.

Drew,

In my experience, many students learn more about their native languages when they study another language.

Formerteacher

June 8th, 2012
8:45 am

As a former Spanish teacher, and someone who sees great value in learning a second language not only to be able to communicate with Spanish speakers but also as a way to improve our understanding of English, I have always said that Americans have 2 big problems when it comes to foreign language education- the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Because we are more isolated from non-English speakers by 2 huge bodies of water, we have never truly accepted that we should learn other languages. Compared to Europe where a 2 hour train ride can take you from hearing French to hearing German, we have always paid lip service to second language learning, starting it WAY too late.

We as a nation have to decide if we really want fluent second language speakers or if we deep down just expect everyone else to speak English. In Europe, kids start a second, and sometimes a third, language in elementary school and carry on those languages through high school. Our kids don’t stand a chance of truly becoming fluent without starting younger. Research has shown it time and again, but no one does anything about it. Young brains are sponges and can learn so many things, including second languages, but we ignore that and start FL in high school, when that window of opportunity is all but gone.

With all the charter talk going on, why haven’t we seen an immersion charter being proposed? I would be all over that- it’s something no county school provides and would be a great way to nurture truly fluent speakers.

NTLB

June 8th, 2012
8:46 am

EXCELENTE!

1) Linguistic study states that second-language acquisition is completed at the seventh year in most cases. Our students need to start learning a second language,at the latest by 6th grade in order to exert bilingual skills by the time they graduate from high school. Bring back world languages to the elementary school curriculum and we will be able to globally compete with students around the world who are bilingual and trilingual by the time they are high school students. Most students that continue to AP classes of any language have been learning the target language since elementary.

2) I agree that our high schools do a very mediocre job in teaching second languages. A large reason is that most world language teachers are not native speakers and continue to teach grammar based classes world language classes in, yes, English. It is much easier to to teach grammar rules and verb conjugations than developing communicative skills in another language.

FYI, in most countries in Europe and Latin America, in order to qualify for and receive a PHD, you must be fluent (socially and academically) in another language.

Chris

June 8th, 2012
9:10 am

@formerteacher,
I also find it strange that there is no foreign language charter school. It would be wonderful if there were a school where all or most classes were taught in a foreign language and students were encouraged to only speak that language with their classmates. I’d enroll my son in such a program in a heartbeat if one existed in Atlanta.

Miss Management

June 8th, 2012
9:15 am

My son was fortunate to have Senora Adams as his Spanish teacher. I hope the powers that be in the DCSS county office will take heed of her words—she has a true teacher’s heart. She is not only an excellent teacher, but a great human being. She has compassion for ALL of her students and is a joyful person in her interactions with them. She was a very positive influence on my son.

LeeH1

June 8th, 2012
9:19 am

What’s the matter with you people? We want to graduate ignorant and stupid students to work in the fields, hospitality and fast food industry. Wasting time and money on language programs is as dumb as wasting time on poor kids trying to teach them art and music.

The children never get any benefit from language, art and music that ever helps the economy, and it is boondogle for overpaid and union supporting teachers who are ruining our country with their high pay and easy pensions. The Tea Party is right on this.

Save the taxpayers our money and teach the lower class children only reading, writing and arithmetic, and be done with it. That is all they ever need, and its also cheaper to do!

Sheesh!

ColonelJack

June 8th, 2012
9:39 am

I wholeheartedly agree with the essay, Clarissa! You’ve hit one of the nails of education right on the head – preparation for the future and for the world of work.

Learning another language is hard. (To quote Tom Hanks, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”) I took Spanish, French, and German in high school and college, and went on to learn Russian on my own. If it does nothing else, learning another language teaches one to focus, to study, to concentrate, and to make connections to what one already knows in his/her own language.

Great, great essay! I’ll be sending letters to my board members.

Old Physics Teacher

June 8th, 2012
10:04 am

First: Foreign language education, like art, music,and physical education is necessary to produce a well-rounded, liberally arts educated person. Secondly: we don’t need every person to get a well-rounded liberal arts education – just like we don’t need every person to have an understanding of physics, astronomy, and calculus. We are educating many people past their abilities. Our charge is to produce a literate citizen who is able to vote intelligently (a different topic for a different day) – not a well-rounded individual. Language skills are best learned at a very young age. Studies have shown this over and over and over. If we really wanted to teach students a second language, we should start the courses in the earlier grades over a longer time. We don’t. We wait until the students are in high school. For the great majority of students this is complete waste of time. It’s too late. Every now and then, a great student comes along that has great skill sets and can add on languages easily — just like every now and then I get a great physics student who turns into a high-quality engineer. I LIVE for those occurrences. Deciding what MANDATORY courses (and disciplines) EVERY STUDENT should take based on these special individuals is extremely stupid.

And for those of you who remark about the number of languages the European community speaks is comparing apples and oranges. The East coast of the USA is about the same size as Europe. I can assure you if Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina spoke different languages [rather than different dialects -ya'll ;) ], our children would speak it from necessity – not because it was taught in school. Maureen could have printed a letter from any teacher, of any discipline, in any high school in the state with the same passion.

Just MHO

NTLB

June 8th, 2012
10:08 am

@Chris, I believe the City of Decatur Schools has or had this module in place.

Jake

June 8th, 2012
10:13 am

Learning a new language is a wonderful and eye opening experience. It increases memory and other brain functions, looks great on a job résumé, and most importantly allows you to connect with a different culture and make new friends. The Internet has made a wide variety of material available too, from beginner texts to advanced native level material. Some of my favorite sights are http://spanishlanguagereviews.co​m for Spanish specifically and http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/e/index.html for general information about language learning as well as a great forum with helpful members.

Meli

June 8th, 2012
10:36 am

I’m just curious as to WHICH language is vital now? When my parents were in school, everyone was told to learn French or German or our country would fall behind and we’d stop being the greatest country on Earth. When I was in school, it was Spanish in high school and Japanese in college. Now kids are told they have to learn Chinese. And it’s always the same doom and gloom prediction of ‘we will fall behind, blah blah blah…’

William Casey

June 8th, 2012
10:37 am

Although learning a second language has many benefits, DREW and OLD PHYSICS TEACHER make valid points. I am VERY hesitant to say that ANYTHING is “good for everyone.” Is “a second language for everyone” the best allocation of scarce economic resources?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 8th, 2012
10:40 am

This will leave Ms. Fletcher, as well as my Walton and Pace friends, incredulous but the primary language need of most of the students I encounter is learning to listen to, speak, read and write ENGLISH with GREAT FACILITY.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

June 8th, 2012
10:42 am

Colonel Jack,

Hand-deliver the letters to your board members.

Aquagirl

June 8th, 2012
10:45 am

Our charge is to produce a literate citizen who is able to vote intelligently (a different topic for a different day) – not a well-rounded individual.

I’m not sure I understand the difference between the two. Maybe that says something about my intelligence. :)

I do think a well rounded education makes better citizens for a variety of reasons. In terms of languages specifically, a good language course develops awareness of the culture and native speakers. After 9/11 a great number of us were asking “the talihoo in afghaniwhere attacked what?” Those comical maps of the world as seen by America have a point.

And as Ms. Fletcher points out, learning languages means higher test scores in unrelated areas. That’s strong evidence studying another language teaches you how to think.We’ve completely abandoned this concept in favor of testing mania and it’s produced a large crop of graduates ready to fail the real world. That includes intelligent voting and other basic tasks of a good citizen.

Ron Burgundy

June 8th, 2012
10:49 am

Its vital to learn a foreign language so you can understand what insults are being hurled towards you when you spend your tourist dollars abroad.

Double Zero Eight

June 8th, 2012
11:01 am

Many of the students in Georgia need to concentrate
on mastering English, before they proceed with
studying a second language.

Unless an individual plans on becoming a translator
for the United Nations, or working abroad, the language
should be Spanish. To do otherwise would be a waste
of time. It appears that Spanish has become the
unofficial second language of the United States.

edugator

June 8th, 2012
11:01 am

Tres bien! As schools continue to stuff vast numbers of unwilling learners into foreign language classes, its wonderful to hear of a success story. And there are many like it. It really doesn’t matter which language is taught, provided the teachers are dedicated, the instruction strong, the students willing, and the parents supportive. It is folly to think we can create capable students just by teaching the basics.

Ashley

June 8th, 2012
11:01 am

Let me get this right, a Spanish speaking immigrant living in the US for 20 or more years hasn’t learn English. Myself two years of French in high school 36 years ago. Now I’m suppose to learn a second language , preferably Spanish because it seems to be the language used after English in ads ,media and businesses. I know several East Europeans, Asian, Middle Easterners and Africans, guess what they all love speaking English. We all got the memo on hispanics being the fastest growing population, so maybe just maybe we should all rush out and enrolled in a second language class. We still have kids that don’t speak English very well, lets concentrate on that first.

another comment

June 8th, 2012
11:02 am

In the mid 1970’s my high school in upstate NY offered a 13 week module in French/German in middle school. You then had to choose one of the two for 3 years of language if you were on the Regents diploma track. Since, my family was of German background, I don’t believe there was a choice for me. Spanish was not offered. I took the 3 years in Frau’s class, and tried to jog my Grandfather’s memory, but he had forgotten most of his German, in 45+ years since his Ellis Island arrival.

I applied for the AFS summer exchange program between high school and college. I specified on the application I would only go to a Germanic speaking countrly in Europe ( which I basically was told was unheard of if you wanted a chance to go, especially as a white scholarship student like I was). Guess what I was selected and my host family lived in Germany in a small town in Baveria. The only catch when I got their the host mother admitted that she had lied on the application and they spoke no English, they also had no high school age children. The town was so small in 1978, that no one spoke English. Well with my three years of high school German ( that I had basically screwed off in Frau’s class), this American girl got who looked like she was German ( due to her ancestry), until she opened her mouth learned German quickly, by riding my bike to town and going to the diffferent stores and buying things and ordering them. Sure, I ended up with onions, instead of without several times. But by the time I got off of the plane at JFK 3 months later, I was completely fluent. I was asking the airport people directions in German, not English. My whole freshman year of college notes are half in English and half in German.

I was able to go to the Library of Congress and do a report on Russian Architecture using referances in German, since I could read it. The Professor questioned me on my source, I told him I was completely fluent and had translated it. There was more information in German than English on this subject.

So many people don’t realize when they are reading even works of lit. in Engish that authors often use words from other language. For example; “angst” which is a German word. If you learn different languages you understand this.

catlady

June 8th, 2012
11:05 am

I fully support learning a second or third language. Unfortunately, in my system, there are (excluding the 2-3 foreign language teachers) maybe ten of us who speak another language. I have little patience with this; I am one of the oldest people in the entire school system and I am one of the ones who does! And I grew up in Alabama, for goodness sake! I studied Spanish for 4 years in high school and I also took a year of Latin while I was taking Spanish 3. My mother took 4 years of Latin in college, so she encouraged me. My own children have a minimum of two years in Spansh; one daughter has 4 years plus some in college.

I find that those who have studied a foreign language are much better teachers of English! They understand that languages are different in ways beyond just words, and they make far better teachers to our ESOL kids. It drives me nuts that Georgia does not require a second language of some kind for certification for ESOL!

I had little reason to use Spanish for the first 17 years I was out of college. Then, one day in November, my principal brought me a new student. She was 7, and neither she nor her parents spoke a word of English. She had never been in school before, either, so she was not literate in Spanish, either. Luckily I really LEARNED the Spanish I studied, and I could talk with her immediately. She was our first ESOL kid in the county. By the end of the year she was one of my top 5 students, went on to graduate as an honors grad, and went on to college! She taught (and helped me remember) a lot. Since then, I have had many reasons to be glad of my remembered Spanish.

catlady

June 8th, 2012
11:10 am

Ashley, not to be snarky, but work on your English first!

NTLB

June 8th, 2012
11:13 am

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”

“A person hears only what they understand>”

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

[...] the Teaching of Foreign Languages named Fletcher its National Language Teacher of the Year.”(more)    Comments (0) Return to main news [...]

Hillbilly D

June 8th, 2012
11:20 am

How many of us took (insert foreign language here) in HS, and maybe college also, and promptly forgot what we learned?

Guilty as charged.

TimeOut

June 8th, 2012
11:55 am

Perhaps we should study nothing that we will later forget.

zeke

June 8th, 2012
12:11 pm

While this may be desirable, requiring such for graduation from high school is absurd! it should be up to the student and their family whether or not they take foreign language! This is about as ridiculous as requiring Engineering students in college to take English, History, Economics or a Foreign Language!

William Casey

June 8th, 2012
12:18 pm

It finally dawned on me what bothered me about this essay: it’s the title, specifically, the word– “VITAL.” Replace “vital” with “important” or “worthwhile” and I’m on-board. But, it’s simply not true that mastery of a second language is vital to more than 10% of Americans unless you’re speaking of immigrants coming to America and the second language is English.

It is interesting that I fought this battle forty years ago as a member of the curriculum committee at the University of West Georgia. The issue was whether the school should allow computer courses to substitute for the core language requirement for students CHOOSING that option. I was on the right side of that one as subsequent events proved. BTW– I enjoyed my five years of German language study. I remember translating Einstein’s essay on The Special Theory of Relativity from German into English. It made more sense to me in German. LOL

The bottom line is that if EVERYTHING is vital, than nothing is. This has been a problem in American education for fifty years.

30 year teacher

June 8th, 2012
12:27 pm

Just returned from a vacation in China. We were amazed that they consider English to be their 2nd language and we met small children as young as 6 who were fluent in English, one on our hotel elevator in Shanghai. Also witnessed a toddler, maybe 2, who was instructed to “Go potty” in English (and did). English is begun in pre-school in many Chinese systems and the results are obvious.
I am not recommending that everyone learn Chinese (Mandarin) but this is an example of how successful people can be when a second language is started in early years. I am fairly fluent when reading French but sound like a two year old when I speak. Wish conversational French had been emphasized more when I was studying the language and that I had begun before high school..

Jordan Kohanim

June 8th, 2012
12:36 pm

I too have found that students who study other languages in parallel with English Language Arts classes do better. They are able to grasp more complex grammar structure and then compare languages. On top of that, these classes give them appreciation for the complexity of language in general.

I don’t think it needs to be either/or. Students can focus closely on English and other languages.

I hope legislators are not so short-sighted that they would cut such valuable programs. Considering GA vies to be an international competitor with recent over-seas trips to drum up international business, I would also hope those same legislators wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they did pursue such cuts. The message would be, “We plan on bringing overseas business to Georgia, but we don’t value your children being able to occupy those jobs when they become available.’

NTLB

June 8th, 2012
12:42 pm

Main Entry: vital  [vahyt-l] Show IPA/ˈvaɪtl/ Show Spelled
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: essential
Synonyms: basic, bottom-line, cardinal, coal-and-ice, constitutive, critical, crucial, decisive, fundamental, heavy*, imperative, important, indispensable, integral, key, life-or-death, meaningful, meat-and-potatoes, name, name-of-the-game, necessary, needed, nitty-gritty, prerequisite, required, requisite, significant, underlined, urgent

Margo

June 8th, 2012
12:43 pm

I’m actually taking a two-week Portuguese class right now in Cobb County. (If any of my classmates are reading: “Olá! Bom dia!”) I know that I won’t be close to fluent — or even able to put together a sentence — by the end of next week, but it’s still an enjoyable experience. The class is free, we earn 5 PDUs, and the district gave all of us a one-year subscription to Rosetta Stone to further our Portuguese education. They’re offering the classes primarily because Cobb has a significant community of Brazilian immigrants, and they tried to offer Arabic, Korean, and Chinese but those were canceled due to low enrollment. The district department chair told us yesterday that they like to use these classes as a springboard for teachers who want further learning in a language, and they try their best to help teachers take advantage of immersion opportunities when it’s feasible. I don’t know if I’ll take this Portuguese any further than next week’s classes and the Rosetta Stone training, but it’s still FUN.

If any metro teachers are interested in learning a language, I’d recommend looking into whether your district offers summer staff development — I wouldn’t have known about this if I hadn’t browsed through our SD catalogue. I suspect that most districts offer at least Spanish and maybe Chinese. It’s definitely worth a few weeks of your summer, and even just rudimentary Spanish can work wonders when reaching out to your students’ parents!

Inman Park Boy

June 8th, 2012
12:46 pm

Spanish is a waste of time. Take Mandarin Chinese or Arabic.

NTLB

June 8th, 2012
12:56 pm

@Inman Park, let’s see if you think the same in 50 years, when Spanish-speakers/Hispanics are the majority in this country. (Census 2010)

Matt

June 8th, 2012
1:07 pm

I, for one, believe that people should be allowed to learn what they want to learn. For a lot of us, being forced to take a foreign language course means less time to do the coursework for the classes we actually want to take. I have no interest in learning a foreign language, as I am comfortable speaking English. If someone else wants to take Spanish or French, more power to them. But those of us with no interest in those subjects should not be forced to take them.

td

June 8th, 2012
2:10 pm

I do not buy that learning a foreign language is vital. It is vital to have mastered basic math skills and it is vital to have superior reading comprehension skills. I feel it would be more vital to know a programming language more then a foreign language.

jarvis

June 8th, 2012
2:33 pm

I’m in HR. We’re constantly looking for employees….We’re never looking for a second language speaker.
We don’t have a call center. Where else is that helpful in a professional setting in the U.S.?

jarvis

June 8th, 2012
2:34 pm

And I’m going to need to see her data on speaking a 2nd language and its effect on increased problem solving skills. Seems like bull.

TheGoldenRam

June 8th, 2012
2:49 pm

I’ve always been a proponent of a curriculum inclusive of foreign languages. Not because of any socioeconomic or professional advantages (although I know they certainly do exist), but because I think learning a language develops more complex cognitive skills. It’s similar to the effects ascribed to learning music. I studied French for seven years and piano/guitar for ten. It really does challenge your mind in ways different from more straightforward learning. It’s more abstract and I think its greatest value is in one’s expression and interaction with the material being learned. You learn it, hear it, speak it/perform it, compose it, etc.. You develop skills and abilities that are very useful in application to other subject areas and pursuits. I’m sure there are positive correlations between bilingualism/musical proficiency and such things as self discipline, social skills & higher academic achievement. It has certainly always felt that way being around high achievers. They possess a diversity of ability.

All that being said, I also believe you have to ‘exercise’ those skills to retain them. I can still read French very well, write it at a much slower speed and speak it at an even slower pace still. I’m never around it much anymore(restaurants not withstanding). The same goes for piano. I can fumble slowly through some pieces, but it’s a shadow of my adolescent proficiency. I’m pretty good on the guitar, but I’ve always retained my interest in that.

Maureen, on a somewhat related note, I wonder if you’ve ever broached the subject of bidialectalism on your blog. I don’t think it gets nearly the level of scrutiny that it deserves. As someone that has tutored low-income kids over the years, I’ve come to view it as one of the biggest impediments to closing the achievement gap. I had never even encountered it until after college when I volunteered to tutor some 3rd graders in my mom’s class. I just figured their struggles with Standard English were a reflection of a persistent environment of low educational achievement in their lives. It’s more than that. A lot more. When I tutored some of these kids in their home environment, I realized that there was a completely different communication system in some of those areas. And these kids were bouncing back in forth between these two worlds. The Standard English of the mainstream world and the broken English dialect of generational poverty and the legacy of low academic achievement. These kids were trying to turn it on and off in real-time to address varying situations. It’s completely different from bilingualism. It strikes me as a major complication in these kids’ lives. Again, I think it deserves much more attention than it receives.

gLENN

June 8th, 2012
2:50 pm

I don’t know about that . Unless you have someone to speak another language with it will be forgotten . I took Spanish in School & went to Central America for half a year . I got to the point where I knew what was said but struggled to answer . Once I got back all progress was lost .

Just saying if you are going to learn another language retention will be quite important .

bu2

June 8th, 2012
3:07 pm

@Jarvis
There are lots of places Spanish is useful and in lots of the country. You need it with farmworkers. Its very helpful in the SW US from California to Texas. Its pretty tough in the restaurant or construction business if you don’t. There are a lot of rural areas even in Georgia where its useful.

And of course if you travel, knowing the language opens doors to things you would never experience without the language.

I don’t think retention is a big issue. I only took two years of Spanish in HS, was never fluent, never had anyone I regularly talked to, but could retain it pretty well just reviewing a little every few years. Languages come back quickly.