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

WorldGreetings

…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 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.


Welcome Back to the 2015-2016 School Year!

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Well, we knew it had to end–summer, that is. Frankly, as hot as it has been, I’m glad to see it come to an end. Further, we, the language teachers, are all really excited to have you back! A teacher without students is, well, purposeless!

A great deal of exciting stuff has taken place this summer. The image above is one taken by a group of students who went to Spain with a third party, non-profit travel organization called El peregringo. The trip was a great experience and successful beyond measure. Some even called it transformative. As the year unfolds, there will be more information about third party travel opportunities which students may want to investigate.

So, yes, we’re back. Let’s all roll up our sleeves and try to get back in the swing of things!


American Students Opting Out of Foreign Languages are Making a Mistake

Clayton Lewis, writing for USNews and World Report, cites declining enrollment among American students at both the secondary and university level of study. Lewis, and the ARSU Language Faculty, believe that this is a dangerous trend, based upon false assumptions among guidance departments, parents, and students.

Ultimately, I fear U.S. students may not be receiving the counsel that they need when selecting their courses. The schools and colleges themselves are failing America’s young if they let students slip through their education in an English cocoon.

Lewis suggests a couple of reasons why students may be being misled in their course selections:

…Americans may be reverting to a belief in “English language exceptionalism.” Yes, English is the accepted lingua franca of international business and U.S. students may therefore feel another language is unnecessary. Perhaps if their only competitors in the global job market were other monolingual Americans, there would be no cause for concern. But the global job market will include a very crowded field of well-educated graduates from Europe, China, Mexico and many other countries who have mastered English on top of their mother tongue. The reality of the 21st century job market is that Americans will be competing for a job where, with other competencies being equal, they will be compared to a multilingual candidate.

A second explanation for anemic language enrollment may be that students are taking the easy way out. There are no quick rewards in the study of another language. Language skills must be built over time; real fluency comes easily for very few and must be constantly cultivated if it is to be maintained. For many, enrolling in Mandarin or Italian may represent an academic challenge with the potential of pulling down a student’s GPA, an unacceptable outcome in this hypercompetitive world.

As barriers to international travel and employment come down, do we really want to handicap our own children by limiting their prospects for future employment?

For the full article, see: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2015/03/12/american-students-opting-out-of-foreign-languages-are-making-a-mistake

June 19 ARSU Foreign Language Inservice

On June 19th, all ARSU Foreign Language faculty will gather to work on two projects together.

First, we’ll look at the vocabulary and cartoon databases now available, and we’ll learn how to use them to create targeted web pages for our students.

Secondly, we’ll continue to work with some films with an eye toward selecting a film that we’ll use district wide, and which will assist our students in articulating their experiences at the grade schools with their transition to high school.

The plan, at present, is to meet at the High School in Mr. Herren’s room. See you all then!

March 27 Foreign Language In-Service

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The ARSU foreign language teachers got together again on the 27th for another in-service. These are such great opportunities for us as we plan on developing a district-wide foreign language curriculum.

Our Wednesday meeting dealt with 2 related issues: Foreign Language Films and DVD region encoding problems.

Foreign films are a great resource for us in the classroom. They’re filled with authentic input, and are a great way to highlight cultural distinctions. Playing foreign DVDs can be a bit of a challenge, but we addressed those issues and I’ve posted a document that will help you re-configure your classroom DVD player to play any type of DVD from anywhere in the world. For more details, see this post.

With respect to Foreign Language Films, we brain-stormed the idea of selecting a single film that we would build upon as the central resource for a district-wide unit. In grades 5-8, the film would potentially be used to highlight a particular aspect of culture, while exposing students to native language. At the high school level, the same film could be used for more detailed language study. The basic idea is that using a common film would create some continuity for students coming from very different schools.

lenguaThe first film we’ve examined for this use was La lengua de las mariposas. Taking place during the early months of the Spanish Civil War, the protagonist is an 8 year old boy, Moncho, who attends school for the first time, and through his new relationship with the teacher, begins to discover the world.

There may be some scenes that would less useful for grade school students, but it’s unlikely we would use the full-length film in any case.

For upper levels, the film is a great depiction of life in a small town in Galicia at the opening of the Civil War, and is a great look at how education has changed through time!

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

$$World Languages = Career Opportunities$$

http://www.utm.edu/staff/bobp/french/forlang=$.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)

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG

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: http://web.cortland.edu/flteach/

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!

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Group photo at the skating rink

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Activities at Pearson

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Activities at Pearson

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Activities at Pearson

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Activities at Pearson

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Mr. Chase chillin’ on the ice.

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Mr. K and Laura

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Skating!

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Skating!

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Skating!

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Vermont Spending on Education

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The Addison Independent ran a guest editorial on school funding on Monday, November 11th. The editorial was written by Paul A. Cillo, President of the Public Assets Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit in Montpelier that promotes sound budget, tax, and economic policies that benefit all Vermonters.

There’s no question about it, funding high quality public schools in the State of Vermont isn’t cheap—in my town of Shoreham, the education portion alone of my property tax is $4666.98. But, as Cillo points out, while not cheap, spending on public education in Vermont is a bargain.

Is Vermont spending too much? Let’s look. In relative terms, statewide spending for public pre-K-12 education in Vermont has held steady for 20 years—at about 5.5 to 6 percent of the state’s economy (gross state product, or GSP). Compare that to statewide health care expenditures. They’ve doubled from about 10 percent of GSP in 1992 to nearly 20 percent in 2012. The growth in health care costs is clearly a problem; our spending on education—measured against the overall economy—is sustainable.

What do taxpayers get for their money spent on public education? Cillo cites the following:

  • Vermont’s public school students have among the highest test scores in the country.
  • Vermont’s public school students have the second highest graduation rate.
  • Vermont has an equitable system, spending close to the statewide per-pupil average on every student, while other states keep their averages and taxes down by spending an inadequate amount on lots of children.

We can be proud, as Vermonters, that our children are getting good bang for our bucks.

Spanish Accentuation

á é í ó ú

coverThe use of accents in Spanish can be somewhat confusing to beginning Spanish students. This is despite the fact that there really are only three simple rules that cover the basics. The most important thing I have found to convey to students is that the pronunciation of Spanish is the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to remember the accentuation of the written word. The accents really only serve to make sure that the pronunciation is accurately conveyed in writing. For students accustomed to English and the fact that pronunciation bears virtually no resemblance to spelling, this consistency can seem jarring (to say nothing of the fact that all spelling “rules” in English are really just ad hoc made up and cover only a few special cases with many exceptions).

The simple rules of accentuation are as follows:

  1. The default stress for all Spanish words which do not end in a vowel, an ‘n’, or an ‘s’ is that the last syllable carries the stress. Eg.: comer, normal, capaz, capacidad, etc. No accent is required to reproduce the correct pronunciation for these types of words.
  2. If a word does end in a vowel, an ‘n’, or an ‘s’, the above rule is superseded and the default stress now falls on the next to last, or penultimate, syllable. Eg. siento, botas, Carmen. No accent is required on these types of words to correctly convey the pronunciation.
  3. Finally, any word whose pronunciation departs from the above, or is homomorphic with another word with a different meaning, will carry an accent to correctly convey this difference in pronunciation. Eg., teléfono (though ending in a vowel, the stress falls on the antepenultimate syllable), comunicación (though ending in an ‘n’, the stress falls on the last syllable), quizás (though ending in an ‘s’, the stress falls on the last syllable), or (though a one syllable word ending in a vowel, this carries the accent to distinguish it from the 2nd person singular pronoun).

Alberto Bustos, a professor of philology at the University of Extremadura in Spain, writes a wonderful blog on Spanish Language issues, and has written an eBook entirely about accentuation. I encourage you to download a copy as a reference!