FHUHS French:

FHUHS Spanish:

Benson Pages:

Castleton Pages:

FHGS Pages:

Orwell Pages:

Translations gone wrong!

A translation exercise gone awry!

¡No es justo! ¿Por qué siempre me toca a mí sacudir el polvo?

It’s not fair! Why do I always have to shave the chicken?

The Majority of People on the Planet Speak More Than One Language


…unless you’re an American

The BBC recently published a great summary article on the benefits of speaking more than one language..

Monolingualism, or, the (dis)ability to speak only one language, is definitely in the minority world wide. Studies show that nearly 75% of the global population speak at least two languages, and in many parts of the world, it is common to speak as many as five languages. The human brain very likely evolved to be multilingual! (one of my family’s closest group of friends not only all carry 4 passports each, they are all at least tri-lingual!)

Yet here in the U.S., monolingual English speakers appear to be the norm. That is changing, however. Within 25 years, there will be more native speakers of Spanish in the US than there are native speakers of English! If you want to stay in the majority, it’s time to buckle down and get another language under your hat!

The benefits of speaking more than one language may be hard for a rural Vermont student to comprehend, but that doesn’t mean that the benefits aren’t clear. Bilingual students consistently perform better on verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests, and have higher GPAs overall than their monolingual peers.

And the benefits of being multilingual go beyond academics. Multilingual people show a statistically relevant advantage with respect to the onset of brain deteriorating diseases such as Alzheimer’s where even among those individuals with nearly identical genetic predispositions to develop Alzheimer’s, the multilingual individuals don’t show symptoms on average for more than 5 years after monolingual individuals.

So, join the majority, improve your grades, and stay healthy and strong intellectually longer and study that second language!

Why aren’t PDAs allowed?

I was reminded of a story today from my first year as a public school teacher. My experience had previously been either in the business world or in higher education. While it might not be self-evident, public education is more cursed with acronyms than either the business world or higher education—combined. I distinctly recall spending many of the early faculty meetings wondering what the heck everyone was talking about. GLEs. PLCs. Who is Nicole Bee anyway?

So, a repeated admonition of my first faculty meetings here had to do with a prohibition on PDAs in the hallway. I just couldn’t understand why they were forbidden. It made no sense. Why forbid a PDA in the hallway? Were they allowed in classrooms? I raised my hand to ask:

“But are PDAs allowed in classrooms?”

Looks of disbelief…then, “No.”

“But are teachers allowed PDAs?”, I asked.

Still more looks of disbelief and a few whispers and stares.

“Absolutely not!”

I was completely at a loss. How was I supposed to keep track of all the dates and information that I needed without my PDA? I was immediately self-conscious that I had a PDA in my pocket, which I now knew was somehow a violation of policy.

At the next faculty meeting, I just had to weigh in. I raised my hand again.

“I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand this no PDA policy. I believe that as educators it is our responsibility to teach students about things they will encounter in the world and to help them learn how to take advantage of such things. I have found that by not being able have a PDA in my classroom I’m a less effective teacher. I think we should be promoting PDAs and not discouraging them.”

Many, many stares of disbelief. Lots of whispering and clearing of throats. Clear looks of derision. My ears began to burn. Finally, a colleague came to my rescue.

“Are you confusing Personal Digital Assistants with Public Displays of Affection?”

Until that moment, I had never heard the term “Public Display of Affection” but had used PDA daily for years as a tool no business person could live without. Now we call them smart phones and they make phone calls as well as keeping track of appointments and names, but back then, phones were phones and PDAs were pocket computers.

Really? Spanish Zen…

Me gusta, es el pollo.

(It is pleasing to me. It is the chicken.)

Como agua para chocolate

Frickin’ Pedro!

What is this category all about?

Every language learner in the world has been there. We confuse a couple of verbs, or perhaps a noun or two, and the resulting sentence or utterance has an unexpected result. This blog category will be for us to collect those gems from class, quizzes and exams.

If you notice one of your own gems here, just remember, that having said something unintentional is not a bad thing. It gives you an experience to latch onto and we all learn from the experiences.

The day I first moved to Costa Rica, I was completely exhausted. I hadn’t slept the night before the flight out of New Orleans, and when I finally arrived in the provincial capitol Heredia, the oldest son of the family grabbed my arm, we got onto a bus and drove back to the capitol San Jose so he could take to a familiar restaurant: McDonald’s (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I hadn’t eaten in a McDonald’s for over 20 years at that point, but whatever…)

As I was struggling to stay awake and answer his many questions about my life, he asked me, “David, are you married?” (David, ¿está casado?).

I heard “Está cansado?” and answered “Sí, un poco”.

Why do we insist on handwritten assignments?

Handwriting? So the High School and a couple of the sending schools have all gone “1 to 1” with Google Chromebooks. Yeah! We’re all paperless now! Right?

Nope. Not in foreign languages, at least. We still insist on using paper and doing most of our assignments handwritten. Why? Are we just eco-terrorists wanting to cut down trees?

The answer is clearly, no. One of our major initiatives within the foreign languages involves basing a great deal of what we do on current second language acquisition research and pedagogy. That research shows that handwriting has a much more profound impact on learning than does typing. Firing all those neurons involved in the tactile nature of handwriting, and the visual cortex involved in seeing ones’ own handwriting when reviewing class notes and vocabulary lists turns out to be much more effective than typing the same.

So, we continue to insist on handwritten assignments for some types of activities and will do so for the foreseeable future.

For a relatively easy to read summary of some of the research, see this New York Times report.

Furthermore, recent research shows that anything more than moderate use of technology in the classroom has a detrimental effect on learning.

As reported by the BBC, the impacts of too much use of technology are wide ranging:

  • Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
  • Students who use computers moderately at school, such as once or twice a week, have “somewhat better learning outcomes” than students who use computers rarely
  • The results show “no appreciable improvements” in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information technology
  • High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of computer use in school
  • Singapore, with only a moderate use of technology in school, is top for digital skills

Clearly, as is often the case, the introduction of new tools results in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I have been personal witness to this for over thirty years while working in technology and language instruction. The advent of the language laboratory and audio recording saw many calls for reducing classtime and increasing visits to little booths with isolating headphones. Then came digital technologies with many of the same claims for revolutionary change in pedagogy and course design. What’s old is new again, and the reality is that technology is a tool, and a tool alone. It will not and cannot replace pedagogy. It will not and cannot replace good curricular design.

DVDs, Region Codes, and Region-Free Players

DVDs remain an important tool in the language teacher toolbox. Authentic materials, created for native speaker audiences of the target language can expose students to a variety of accents they might not otherwise hear from their own teachers, to say nothing of the cultural value of the representations within the film.

Acquiring DVDs from France or Spain, or anywhere in the Spanish-speaking world is incredibly easy. Even Amazon carries any number of foreign films. The one problem a teacher might face, however, is the fact that DVDs are encoded in one of two video formats and in potentially 8 different region codes which makes it nearly impossible to play these foreign DVDs on the average classroom DVD player or computer. In this post, I’ll attempt to summarize the issues we face, and point you to some great solutions.

Video Formats

Back in the video tape era, there were 3 video formats that we had to wrestle with, but at least on DVDs, we’re faced with only two: NTSC and PAL.

NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) is the format used in the United States and Japan (and occasionally in other parts of the world). Sadly, it’s about the worst standard ever created in terms of color control, but there’s a long historical reason behind this. In order to play any video encoded in NTSC, you must have an NTSC capable DVD player and an NTSC capable video monitor. That’s all easy as virtually all the players you’re likely to encounter in the US will be precisely thus.

PAL is the video standard common in most of the rest of the world (fortunately, with the virtual demise of videotape, the third standard, SECAM, of which there were 2 incompatible versions for France and Russia, is essentially dead). PAL has much better color control than NTSC, but that’s another issue altogether. To play a PAL video, you must have a PAL capable DVD player and a PAL capable video monitor.

Now this situation would be a real pain if it weren’t for the fact that DVD player manufacturers really want to maximize their profits and minimize their costs. So, when they design and build DVD players, they build them all the same and only configure them in firmware for the markets in which they’ll be sold. The vast majority of DVD players on the market today can read and play either PAL or NTSC, and can also play discs from any of the 8 regions. They’re just configured, through software, to only play the format for the market where they’re sold. More on this later.

DVD Regions

When DVDs were first created and marketed, the movie studios were worried that they would lose the ability to roll out new films slowly across the global market, thereby maximizing their profits. These studios forced the manufacturers of DVDs and DVD players to create 8 regions and to encode the discs so that a disc designed to be sold in the US wouldn’t play in Mexico, or China, or Australia, etc. Hence the 8 regions:


Configure your DVD player to play any disc

First, let me be clear, this information is for a stand-alone DVD player that you would connect to a “television”, or video monitor. It is not for playing DVDs on your computer. That is another issue we’ll address later.

Nearly all DVD players can be reconfigured to play discs from any region. Content creators and the movie studios have argued that reconfiguring your player is, or should be, illegal. For the foreign language teacher, wanting to expose kids to content created in the target culture, and who buys their own DVDs (as opposed to pirating them), this is clearly fair use.

The procedure for changing the region of your player is nearly always a similar process. You’ll turn on your player, open the tray, push some buttons on the remote control, and power cycle the player. Here is a link to a site that lists hundreds of models of DVD players that can be reconfigured:

Find your manufacturer and model, and follow the instructions you find there and you’ll be all set to play DVDs from France, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, etc. Be sure to set your player to Region 0 to allow it to play discs from anywhere.

DVDs and your computer

Unfortunately, playing foreign DVDs on your computer is little trickier. Well, sort of. Actually, you can play any format, and Region DVD on your computer—but you can only switch the format your DVD drive is set to 5 times before it becomes locked down permanently to the last played format. (technically, on a PC with Windows, there are third party software programs which can “flash” your DVD drive back to factory default—but they can also occasionally render it completely non-functional).

If you only need to very rarely play a foreign DVD on your computer, then you easily just switch the region up to the 5 times you’re allowed. However, if you need to play discs from multiple regions on a regular basis, there’s a really simple, and not terribly expensive way to do this: buy an external DVD drive.

External DVD drives can be had for around $40. If you have your internal DVD drive configured for Region 1 (US) NTSC discs, use the external drive for Region 2 (Europe) PAL discs. Then you just have to remember to use the right drive for the disc in question. Easy!

Now I’ve just mentioned Europe and the US, but what about Mexico (Region 4)? Fortunately, I have yet to find a Region 4 disc that is not DUAL-region encoded, 1 & 4. There may be single region 4 discs out there, but I have personally never encountered any. If I ever do, and I really really need to play that disc regularly, I’ll probably just buy a third DVD drive!

English is NOT the important language we think it is.

Bob Peckham is a professor of French at the University in Tennessee: Martin. He’s a regular participant on the FLTeach email list. Bob just posted the following to the list and it’s definitely worth sharing here.

Do members of your school board say “We want to eliminate our children’s chance to become financially prosperous.”?” Very few things are more important than our ability to earn a living, so when people tell us we are wasting our time learning a foreign language because hardly anyone does not use English as the lingua franca of business, we wonder at the wisdom of spending tax-payer dollars on it. The exaggeration comes close to a pants on fire rating.

English is the most widely spoken language for numbers of countries where it is official. It ranks third for native speakers. No matter where you work in this country you will be at an advantage for good English communications. However there are some myths about English that we tend to embrace, and which seem to get us into trouble. Here are some facts about the limitations of English:

  • Native English speakers are only 5.6% of the world’s population.
  • English now represents less than 40% of online content, including web and social media.
  • Only 26.8% of internet users are native English speakers.
  • About 25% of Americans don’t speak English at home.
  • 7% of Americans simply don’t speak English.
  • 75% of people in the world cannot speak English (84% in CIA World Facts Book).
  • There are English accents & dialects which are incomprehensible to most English speakers.
  • 65% of the world population is at least bilingual; only 18% in the US.
  • 75% of Americans think English is the most widely-spoken native language in the world.

I have tried to show something about the earnings value of knowing a foreign language in

$$World Languages = Career Opportunities$$$.html

Using World Bank data for 2012 (latest year where data is complete), I made a list of the fastest growing economies (I used 7% and above). There are asterisks beside the countries where English is listed among the official languages, but you can see that languages other than English far outweigh English.

GDP growth 2012 (World Bank data)

Country % growth
Afghanistan 14%
Buthan 9.4%
Burkina Faso 10%
Cambodia 7.3%
Chad 8.9%
China 7.8%
Congo, Dem. Rep. 7.2%
Cote d’Ivoire 9.5%
*Eritrea 7%
Ethiopia 8.8%
*Ghana 7.9%
Iraq 8.4%
Lao PDR 8.2%
*Liberia 10.2%
Mauritania 7.6%
Mongolia 12.3%
Mozambique 7.4%
Niger 10.8%
Panama 10.7%
*Papua New Guinea 8%
*Rwanda 8%
*Sierra Leone 15.2%
Tajikistan 7.5%
Turkmenistan 11.2%
Uzbekistan 8.2%
*Zambia 7.3%

In 2012, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data, foreigners invested $166 billion in U.S. businesses and real estate. In 2013, we exported $2.3 trillion worth of goods and services from the U.S. Someone in these businesses has to have the internal skills that include foreign languages.

The Hispanic communities in America (16.7% of the population, many who speak Spanish), will have an estimated purchasing power of $1.5 trillion by 2015.

The FACTS don’t support the extreme English-as-lingua-franca arguments.

TennesseeBob (busker & song writer)

For all FLTEACH information see:

FHUHS Trip to Montreal!

The FHUHS Language Department Field Trip to Montreal, February 20-21 was a great success. We spent Thursday with our new friends at Lester B. Pearson High School where our hosts from their Student Council had planned a number of activities.

Thursday evening, we attended the Festival of Lights in downtown Montreal, followed by a concert of Quebecois music at a great venue called Club Soda.

On Friday, we were back with our friends from Lester B. Pearson who took us ice skating! After skating we did a little sight seeing and headed home to Vermont.

Our thanks go out to Laura F., the student organizer from Pearson, and to Mr. K, the faculty advisor to the Pearson Student Council. Everyone at Pearson made us feel very welcome and we look forward to continued collaboration and future visits!


Group photo at the skating rink


Activities at Pearson


Activities at Pearson


Activities at Pearson


Activities at Pearson


Mr. Chase chillin’ on the ice.


Mr. K and Laura