Cincinnati: grant to the Academy of World Languages is great chance for whole community

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jun 18 13:50:12 UTC 2007

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

 Grant is great chance for whole community
Bret Lovejoy

This new grant to the Academy of World Languages represents an excellent
opportunity for not just one school, but for the entire Cincinnati community
- parents, school administrators, local leaders and businesses - to use this
as a springboard to making their language programs a critical part of
preparing students for the real world. All too often, America finds itself
in circumstances where our lack of multilingual skills limits our
capabilities ... to negotiate, to form cooperative cultural and academic
exchanges, to form mutually beneficial business relationships. Whether these
are diplomatic, commercial or national security situations, they magnify our
inability to communicate on equal terms with other cultures. And that, in
turn, limits what we can accomplish internationally.

Correcting these deficiencies, equipping our young people with the language
skills they need to succeed in the world community, will require involvement
from all of us. Parents must make their local government and school
officials know that language programs have become a top priority for their
children, deserving the same attention and investment that math and science
now enjoy. Policy makers, local school boards and school administrators must
recognize that their focus on the historically "hot" subjects will leave our
students still unprepared to compete from a position of strength if they
cannot understand both the languages and the cultures of their counterparts
around the world. Local government, civic and business leaders must
recognize that a multilingual workforce is no longer a luxury; it is an
investment in our young people and in the future competitive edge of our

These changes will not come about by simply telling the education system to
do it. Like everything else worthwhile, building our language capabilities
will require time and ongoing financial support. The process of improving
and expanding our language skills should be based on expanding the number of
languages our schools offer, not replacing existing programs with the
language du jour. New languages are important because of the emergence of
new countries on the world stage, but the commonly taught languages remain
as critical as ever. With additional resources, a long term commitment to
expanding and strengthening language education, and a business community
willing to recognize and reward language skills, educators can focus on what
needs to be done to create and sustain quality learning.

What are some of the components of that quality foreign language learning?
It starts with well qualified, well trained teachers. Teachers recruited
from overseas need ongoing training and mentoring to be able to succeed in
American classrooms. We must encourage the recruitment of American students
into the ranks of foreign language teaching. All teachers need continuous
quality professional development to maintain and expand their language
proficiency, as well as learn and implement the best teaching practices.

Students must have access to a broad range of learning environments,
including immersion in the target language both here in the U.S. and abroad.
But, as research has proven, the most important element of a successful
language program is "time on task" - in other words, students taking foreign
languages need more time to study the language during school and must have
opportunities to use the language in settings outside of school. Foreign
language offerings must, therefore, begin in the early grades and continue
in unbroken sequences - kindergarten through 12th grade - and then be
articulated with postsecondary courses. This is the only way we will produce
students with actual proficiency in languages with the ability to
communicate with and understand others using the language.

Language learning must no longer be viewed as one of the tickets to be
punched to move on to college. It must be seen, like science and math, as a
basic building block for academic and workplace achievement and, more
importantly, lifelong success.

*Bret Lovejoy is executive director of the American Council on the Teaching
of Foreign Languages.*

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