Friday, July 10, 2015

Promoting Foreign Language Education

As mentioned in a previous post, this week I took a weeklong workshop on multicultural education at the University of Utah, a workshop I'm taking this for teaching licensure points, although I'm not really interested in going back to teaching at the secondary level at the point. On our first day, we were given a questionnaire that would provide some background information for our workshop leaders to understand us more. I'm the only college-level teacher in the group.

One of the questions we were given was to discuss what "diversity" means to us, and what we hope to get out of the workshop. I tend to think that diversity is often narrowly defined as that relating to racial identities, and believe cultural identity is just as often linguistic, religious, or socioeconomic.

A few days ago someone from the University's Global U program gave a short presentation about the U's foreign language department, and told us about the federally-funded Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. This led to an interesting discussion about English Language Learners, teaching English to speakers of other languages, and foreign language education. Apparently there are no foreign language requirements for graduation from high schools in Utah, yet there are foreign language requirements at the college level. Getting students to want to take foreign languages in high school is difficult (often getting high school students to want to take any classes is difficult), and the foreign languages that are  seen as "worthwhile" are limited, for example, to Spanish and Chinese. (I also learned about heritage language programs in which students with some proficiency in the language of their parents or ancestors take courses in this language to maintain and improve fluency and literacy skills.)

It's therefore difficult to get district funding to find and pay teachers of foreign languages that aren't Spanish or Chinese, which means few students see the need for learning a foreign language that isn't Spanish or Chinese, which means that few students choose to learn any foreign language at high school or college, which leads to students not majoring in any foreign language, which leads to a shortage of teachers capable of teaching any foreign language. And the teachers who might be certified and otherwise capable of teaching any foreign language have trouble finding a teaching job because there are no openings for foreign language teachers, which leads to difficulty in getting district funding of creating more foreign language positions (because students and parents aren't interested in their students learning foreign languages), and on and on. It's a vicious cycle.

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