Friday, November 11, 2011

Student Lessons: Monolingualism & Living Abroad

One of my students' projects this semester is to, with a partner, lead the class in a 30-45-minute lesson about some aspect of culture, since we've been focusing on various aspects thereof throughout the semester. I gave them a handout that explained some of the logistics, and what I expected of them, but topic-wise, I gave them a lot of leeway. Some of them are, of course, better than others, partly with how much they plan ahead, but also partly because of the students' own personality and maturity, as well as their comfort in speaking in front of a group of people.

Everyone has utilized the smart console that's available in each classroom; most have created PowerPoints; some have incorporated YouTube clips; others have included computer games and quizzes - or have created games them themselves - that have allowed the rest of the class to get involved, to varying degrees of success (mostly pretty good; one class in particular is much more talkative and outgoing than the other two).

There's a rather stark dichotomy here in Utah; because of the sheer pervasiveness of the LDS church, many (probably most) young men, and some young women, at some point go on a mission; some go to interesting places like Ghana (I heard of one student's mission experiences there), while others are sent to places like New Jersey. Because missions last for two years, one has the experience of potentially living in a place that is vastly unlike anything previously experience (although I guess one could say the same if one were sent to New Jersey). Yet aside from these missions, most students here simply do not - or have not - traveled abroad. I had decided to incorporate culture into my class this semester mostly because there simply I hadn't gotten the impression that people here travel as much as the people I know who live on the coasts. (One student said he'd never left the U.S., and had no plans to live anywhere else. I wasn't sure if he had decided he wouldn't live anywhere else and specifically ruled that possibility out, or just had never really considered the possibility.)

In any case, two lessons this past week was on the subject of monolingualism and the necessity of knowing or learning foreign languages. A few students spoke other languages, but most students did not; we had the discussion as to why Americans don't learn another language, the importance of learning another language, etc.

Everyone agreed that learning another language is important, but I got the distinct impression that most of the students didn't not seem to have any real interest in that, "since everyone speaks English anyway"; most, of course, have never been in a position where their ability to survive abroad depended on learning another language. It reminded me that not everyone has the ability to travel - for a variety of reasons, some of which one can't control, of course - and how important it is for kids to be exposed to those who live differently.

(This is one of the big reasons why I'm glad Ed works for an airline; travel is expensive, in no small part because of the cost of airline tickets, and while we can't afford to travel right now for other reasons, flying anywhere will not be a problem.)

This morning, two students led a presentation on living in the U.S. versus living in Kazakhstan, where one of the two students had lived for eight or nine years before moving to Armenia for her senior year in high school before moving back to the States. (She had been born in the U.S., but as a child her parents decided to move abroad.) N., the studet who lived in Kazakhstan, included pictures of her time there and spoke at length of her experiences, while E., who had grown up in the area, touched on the related American aspects as a means of comparison. It was really interesting to hear what N.'s experiences had been.

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