LanguageTeaching Professionals in Denial

This is a repost from December. The link is from Skip. A close read of the article reveals serious flaws in many teachers’ own opinions of what they are actually accomplishing and whom they are serving in their positions as language teachers:
Hi Ben,
This was in an email from ACTFL entitled “Spotlight on Language”   I don’t understand the seeming contradiction in what they “say” and what people reported out from the ACTFL conference.  Here is the link:



9 thoughts on “LanguageTeaching Professionals in Denial”

  1. It was a sad article to read. The comment below the article was worse.
    I think that the First Peoples had much the same feeling of wondering why they had to speak the lanugage of the invaders/colonizers. And then to be denied their lanugages . . . it is a tragedy that our classrooms never teach that history to students.
    The place to require world language is not at high school if you wish truly fluent speakers. I think it begins in Kindergarten or pre-school. Fluency requires those language acquistion ears to be open and engaged. Children at that age are sponges for knowledge of any sort. That is why I put in languages in my after school. our school stopped teaching Spanish after a few years as a special area because we had to teach other things mandated by law and tested for. It is all about keeping those brain synapses in place until they can get to high school.
    Think how fluent students can be if they got languages earlier on. Because frankly, I’ve been working my butt off for 3 years to grasp mine and I am basically just approaching novice. It is the same thing as the students in the article were expressing concern about. There is no one to talk to in the target language other than your teacher. And my poor teachers struggle to talk to me of anything of consequence because I don’t have the vocabulary built to grasp the higher order thinking yet.

    1. My daughters are 3 and 4 and I have a 10 month old son. How can I start teaching them Spanish at a young age? Before our first was born I always said while my wife was pregnant that I was going to speak only Spanish to our children………easier said than done when you’re lacking in confidence in the language. I’m nowhere near native-like proficiency and I’ve always lacked self-confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities so I never really did much Spanish with our children. They can count to 10, say their colors, say “buenos dias” and “buenas noches” and “me gusta salsa”.
      What’s the best way to teach small children another language? I feel it is “too late” to jump on the immersion train as that would be best for around birth and I don’t want them to miss the critical period.

      1. Songs. Then circle them. Then play them again. Then circle them again. Make the time you spend with your kids in the language happy, not about learning anything at all. Play with the sounds of the song. Go to their level, don’t try to bring them up to yours. Songs will do it.

  2. Hey Chris,
    Since my son was born I have done what Susie says to do with students, I just talk to him in Spanish. I started out when he was 4-5 by taking his starwars figurines and circling questions…. It worked really great.
    Now I take structures that are relevant at the time and PQA them. I always try to bring in humor. He has started to be able to add humor lately too. He is now 11. I really don’t think it matters how well you speak…. I know I make mistakes – he corrects me! My son really enjoys Spanish. It does go in spurts though.. I have to feel him out and look for moments.
    Funny story. We are reading Los Baker Van a Peru. I am not sure if you are familiar with the story but Nathaniel (the father) is tacaño and often goes to the store for free samples. Well, Gabe and I have done that for years 🙂 The other day we went by SAM’S CLUB and he said, “Daddy, we should go get some ‘tacaño’ food….” I nearly drove off the road laughing.
    I am not sure that helps but your post hit home with me and I thought I would reply!

  3. I wanted to add the piece that was in the ACTFL SMART BRIEF as well. It said:
    * Schools in Pa. provide options but fluency remains elusive
    Pennsylvania requires public schools to teach two foreign languages, with at least one offering four years of coursework. Too often, experts say, this process provides rote learning when a true grasp of the language should be the objective. “That’s why you so often hear people say, ‘I took four years of Spanish but I can’t speak it,’ ” said Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Our goal should be classrooms where teachers speak the target language exclusively.” The Republican-Herald (Pottsville, Pa.) (12/18) ?LinkedIn?Facebook?Twitter?Email this Story
    The part that I find so contradictory is ACTFL’s apparent stance (” said Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Our goal should be classrooms where teachers speak the target language exclusively” AND what reportedly presented at the conference in Denver.

  4. Yes and skip do trust that the contradiction is real and your vision of it is accurate in terms of what we saw in Denver. The love of technology visible in almost every booth and conference room washed away any awareness of the ACTFL 95% statement at their own national conference! All the attendees seemed to be a bunch of sheep following leadership that in some way is now aligned with what the book companies (now tech companies as well) want them to be doing. I was sitting with Jason Fritze watching people walk around and he commented on how purposeless their direction, their vibe, their walks, were. To think that this great presenter – perhaps the greatest force for comprehension based instruction in the world today – was walking around unnoticed is one of the great ironies of our day in foreign language education. Whether this tech push is by design by ACTFL and there is collusion with those corporate powers is not my interest. My own thinking is that the 95% statement is just too much for them. It and diving into Krashen would require too much change for them. They can’t do it. They came into the profession because they were rewarded so heavily in college by pre-Krashen instructors, a national corps of four percenters, and made it their careers because they were good at it, not because they were particularly meant to be teachers of languages. This is a very key point and it is a true one. Now a bunch of renegades have started to show up at their mutual admiration conferences and in their mutual admiration buildings and just started tipping over tables and throwing CI pamphlets all over the place. They don’t like it. They will fight back and many careers of younger CI people will be lost, have been lost already, actually. So that is why we need to not feel too bad about kicking up a ruckus. Look at what Drew is doing within his department. He has a different, quieter, style. He is making huge change not through petulance but just by delivering a much better product to his kids. Maybe that is how the change will occur, slowly within departments as younger teachers who don’t buy the old ways start reaching kids (if they don’t get crushed first and quit) and the others have to change or lose their jobs because nobody wants to take their boring ass classes. It will require a lot more Diana Noonans in major and minor metro districts to lead the change as well. But your observation of the contradiction in ACTFL is definitely spot on, skip….

  5. Ben’s words: My own thinking is that the 95% statement is just too much for them. It and diving into Krashen would require too much change for them. They can’t do it.
    Kevin’s words: Literally, they can’t do it. As a 4%er who aced all of my college courses yet had to spend a couple years in Guatemala to achieve any semblance of verbal proficiency, I see many of them as I once was, a worksheet master who couldn’t speak the language.
    So even when people trumpet the values of the old paradigm, I wonder whether they often do so as an unconscious or semi-conscious form of self-justification since they know that their only other option is to spend a vast amount time learning the language the right way (if they even know what that right way is). In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took many of them longer to acquire the language than it would take their brightest students to do so.
    So I may be a bit more sympathetic to my fellow teachers than some. As for the corporate purveyors of technological salvation, however, . . .

  6. Technology can’t teach you like the native speakers. Each language has encoded in it certain values and cultural awareness that don’t translate into another language. In English there are idioms that don’t make sense (sometimes even from British to American) when they are translated into another language. And I know that when I am trying to form a sentence in Mvskoke and break down looking for a word to express what I am thinking that my Elders both say–that thought would not occur to a Mvskoke speaker.
    So fluency is not only a product of getting pronunciation and grammer together, it is also understanding the deeper nuances of culture that are very difficult to attain without someone of the culture to guide you and mentor you. Hence why working in Guatemala changed Kevin’s level of proficiency even though he was an ACE USA student of Spanish.
    A book, a computer program, a teacher, they can only take you so far. It is the 50% of you doing your part and a mentor/guide that brings you to a level of fluency where you are actually able to truly be a part of the conversation of the community of people whose language you are trying to communicate with. And we could say that about almost any language–the language of music, auto mechanics, naturalist, or speaker of Spanish.
    Maybe mentoring is what is going on in the CI classrooms the most–how to get into a conversation, ask for help, try to make ourselves understood with gestures when words don’t get it, how to connect with our eyes and hearts. We are demonstrating through the language we are trying to engage students in how to communicate when there isn’t a common language we both understand.

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