There are many benefits to knowing more than one language. For example, it has been shown that aging adults who speak more than one language have less likelihood of developing dementia. Additionally, the bilingual brain becomes better at filtering out distractions, and learning multiple languages improves creativity. Evidence also shows that learning subsequent languages is easier than learning the first foreign language. Unfortunately, not all American universities consider learning foreign languages a worthwhile investment.
We’ve all heard students say that they have chosen specific languages to study based on how easy they are to learn. In fact, the Washington Post has a quiz called “Which foreign language should you learn?” (found here: http://bit.ly/whichlang). If you choose responses that indicate you don’t want to put too much time and effort into language learning, you get told you should study Spanish. Changing your responses to say that you want to work harder gets you Arabic. A quiz such as the one in the Washington Post may seem like harmless fun, but pervasive ideas about language learning and teaching may have negative consequences for language teaching and learning.
It hardly seems possible that 20 years have passed since CLEAR was first awarded funds through the US Department of Education’s Title VI Language Resource Centers (LRC) Program. In its early years, CLEAR benefitted from the leadership and dedication of Professor Pat Paulsell, who together with Professor Susan Gass wrote the first grant proposal. Professor Paulsell’s vision, activism, and creative activities combined to help put CLEAR at the forefront of foreign language education. Professors Gass and Paulsell co-directed CLEAR for seventeen years. Following the latter’s 2013 retirement, CLEAR was joined in its current funding cycle by new co-director Professor Charlene Polio, whose expertise in second and foreign language pedagogy and second language acquisition greatly enhances the center’s current projects.
As described by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Can-Do statements are simple self-assessment statements for learners to determine not what they know about language but what they can do with language. An example of a Can-Do benchmark statement for Intermediate-Mid proficiency is the following: I can participate in conversations on familiar topics using sentences and series of sentences. I can handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering a variety of questions. I can usually say what I want to say about myself and my everyday life.
CLEAR's directors and staff are pleased to announce that CLEAR has been granted Title VI Language Resource Center funding from the US Department of Education for a sixth funding cycle, which will run through September 2018.
In my work with preservice ESL teachers, I’ve seen both native speakers and international students find worksheets online that purport to teach students how to, for example, invite, compliment, or disagree in English. I have observed my student teachers give their students lists of expressions that most English speakers would never say. One particularly glaring example on a website for teaching invitations was “How do you fancy going to the restaurant for dinner?” One can only imagine the reaction an ESL student would get if he or she used this expression, even in the UK. Conversely, an ESL student may hear someone say, “How ‘bout havin’ lunch tomorrow?” and not understand that this is an invitation. When students’ exposure is limited to textbook language, they miss out on learning how language is used in real life.
Projects undertaken by Michigan State University’s Center for Language Education and Research (CLEAR) generally span a four-year cycle. The website being introduced in this article, Video Assistance for Understanding Language Teaching Techniques (VAULTT), is one of CLEAR’s professional development projects for the 2010-2014 grant funding cycle. VAULTT was based on a pilot program begun in 2009 with support from CLEAR and MSU’s Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages, and the Center for Language Teaching Advancement.
Many language programs are struggling to maintain and grow their offerings. As language educators, we need to continuously show the value of our programs not only to administrators and the community, but also to our students. One possibility to do just that is to engage students in service-learning programs in the community. In order to motivate our students, we need to provide them with ways to apply what they are learning in real-world contexts and with opportunities to use the target language. Sharing their knowledge with others can allow students to practice their language abilities while also providing an important service to the community. Service-learning and civic engagement programs have been shown to advance students’ attainment of academic learning outcomes (Gascoigne Lally, 2001) and, within the context of languages, can also increase participants’ cultural awareness and intercultural competence (Reyes, 2009).