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Teachers and Other Languages.

Scorpio Sphinx A Quest 7-7-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

I'm on a quest, and not for sang real (my holiday reading was The Da Vinci Code), but for something just as enigmatic and rare. I seek teacher education programs that require preservice teachers to take a foreign language. I haven't found many. If you work in such a program, please send me the details.

Let's Design a Teacher Ed Program
That Requires a Foreign Language.

"From sea to shining sea," one can hear over 47 million speakers of other languages in the United States (out of a population of about 260 million) according to the Modern Language Association Data Center. Over 28 million of the others speak Spanish or Spanish Creole. In our little corner of the universe, Washington County, Arkansas, over 11,000 of the 15,342 speakers of other languages prefer Spanish or Spanish Creole. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau website (www.census.gov), 1,565 local students speak a language other than English and 1,140 of those speak Spanish or Spanish Creole.

You would think that preservice teachers might request basic language training. In my classes, they do.

In Our Region, It's Spanish.

An informal survey of my two Language Development for Educators classes this past spring revealed that over 90% of my students agreed that they should have some Spanish language training. Now I admit I asked the question directly: "Do you think preservice teachers should have some Spanish language training in the teacher education program at our university?" I phrased the question that way because we were discussing their field observations in area schools and how they wished they knew some (or more) Spanish.

After listening to my students express their curiosity about another language with the budding desire to speak and understand it, I posed a logical (and leading) question: Why not enroll in one of the Spanish classes already offered on our campus?

Time, Intimidation, Difficulty.

The usual litany of excuses surfaced.

"I've too little time in an already demanding curriculum of required education classes and general education core classes."

"It's intimidating because so many students in the basic Spanish classes have higher level skills." (Love those easy As!)

"The Spanish classes are just too hard because they are geared for majors, not for students who simply want some language training for personal development."

The Interest Is Genuine.

Yes! Despite the objections, I was impressed by the genuine interest in Spanish on the part of my preservice teachers almost all of them majoring in early childhood and elementary education. They want the ability to communicate with their ELLs (English Language Learners). Spanish just happens to be the language of choice because of the prevalence of that linguistic group in the classes they had observed in Washington County area schools. In other regions of the U.S., it could just as well be Chinese, Arabic, or Korean.

My preservice teachers do not want to take Spanish classes to teach Spanish. They want to take Spanish to be able to communicate with their pupils.

One might ask if the preservice teachers also expressed an interest in classes in English as a Second Language (ESL). Many of them did. Spanish is not the only language spoken in our mountain aerie. As the MLA Data Center statistics reveal, over 4,000 inhabitants speak languages other than Spanish. Why should the other tongues be neglected? How can our teachers possibly learn all the languages spoken by their charges?

Preservice teachers cannot learn everything, obviously but by taking ESL classes that offer theory about language acquisition and the strategies and techniques one can implement in the classroom, they can learn to help all English Language Learners.

The prevailing approach, however, is still top-down, English-directed. The overarching mindset remains the dominance of the English language and an English language Weltanschauung.

Required Study.

My argument is that one cannot totally appreciate a different culture until one studies a foreign language; therefore, it behooves designers of teacher education programs to strongly consider a foreign language requirement. My preference would be German because that's my particular favorite with Hungarian running a close second. However, according to the MLA Data Center, there are only 358 speakers of German in Washington County and only 34 speakers of Hungarian. How many of their progeny are in the public schools?

If policy makers were a bit more forward thinking, discussion of foreign language requirements for preservice teachers would not be an issue of when or why, but how many and how often. Ideally, all students in K-12 would be studying a foreign language, so that by the time they enrolled in a teacher education program, they would be able to easily navigate a second or even third language.

C'est tout pour maintenant!

The End


Washington County census information was obtained from the MLA Language Map Data Center (http://www.mla.org) on July 5-6, 2005, and from the U.S. Census website (http://www.census.gov) on July 6, 2005.

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