Nice initiative from Rosetta Stone. They’re partnering with school districts in the US to offer an alternate, complementary method for teaching foreign languages, where students can work from home or independently in class – in work stations – and develop their language skills in a personalized way. They’re offering free webinars such as this one to present success stories from schools that are implementing their language programs.
The webinar had such as powerful title that I wanted to participate. This is such an important aspect in education and language teaching, and a key concept in Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) classes such as Business Spanish: To prepare students to be active participants of our global society, to develop “global mindedness” and become “internationally-minded students.” Language is an important aspect towards reaching this goal. 61% of US companies need employers who can speak Spanish, followed by French and Mandarin. Take a look at the graphic below:
Language skills: a global competency?
The relationship between global competency and language skills remains an unmet need. Fewer than 10% of Americans are fluent in more than one language while about 50% of Europeans are. One of the main barriers is limited funding in language learning in K-12 education. Schools and colleges/universities need to explore new ways to deliver language teaching, to develop self-paced learning methods, and to incorporate technology for blended and online courses.
Nakia Douglas, Principal of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, Texas presented interesting aspects of his school’s language program, that offers three languages: Chinese, Latin and Spanish. Latin remains a popular choice for the students who want to pursue a career in medicine or law. They offer a blended program with Rosetta Stone as partner. In addition, the school offers exchange program opportunities for students in Taiwan, Spain and Costa Rica among others. This is a unique opportunity for students, of course.
And what do students think?
What I always miss from this type of webinars or conference presentations is the students’ perspective and seeing the students in action. What do they think? How do they perceive language? For students to be internationally-minded and become bilingual or multilingual, they not only need to develop a variety of skills, they need to care about our changing world and have a love for language learning. How can we – their teachers – help them? Exchange programs are a great way for students to be exposed to the target language and to the people who speak the language. If they are able to stay with a host family and experience the language, the culture and school life or professional life 100%, that’s the best scenario of course, to be totally immersed. However, although ideal, it’s not always possible to get funding to offer these opportunities to students when they’re in school. But there are other ways to expose students to language, through service learning, community partnerships, internships in multilingual organizations, etc. And that’s something that we can definitely promote. Here’s a great example of a teacher that’s doing that: Ann Abbott who gives a “Spanish in the Community” class at the University of Illinois. I discovered her blog only a week or so ago and loved it. In her blog you can find many ideas to involve students in serving the (Hispanic) community. What’s also great is that you can read many students’ reflections to get a feel of what they think, how they develop empathy and understanding for others and other culture, how they connect to language and “how they begin to love language”.
So we need to be on the same page…
Preparing students to meet the demands of our global society is an important task. In most cases, we only have a semester to work with a group of students and there’s always so much material to cover. That’s why it’s important to transfer not only knowledge to students but lifelong learning strategies and to expose them to experiences they will remember. Finally, it should not only be the task of language teachers to promote language learning. If the principal of a school or a future employer requires students/employees to speak foreign languages but he or she himself/herself doesn’t, there seems to be a gap there… but it was different when we went to school. There were other priorities. If this is a priority now, then that’s basically the task: To prepare today’s students, so that when they become future professionals, they can indeed lead by example.