Foreign Language Report Urges Increased Exposure In Lower Grades

If the district chooses to offer Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, where will teachers come from and what happens to French, Latin?

Supt. Victor Mercurio presented findings from the EG Foreign Language Committee at the School Committee meeting Tuesday night that included proposals to begin foreign language instruction in elementary school and phase in Arabic at East Greenwich High School.

Formation of the committee was prompted in EG schools.

The committee, made up of language teachers, Supt. Mercurio, Chris Perrett and others, visited schools in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island known for their language instruction.

What they found, according to the Tuesday night presentation, was that successful language programs begin at the elementary level, integrate technology and offer beyond-the-classroom opportunities.

The report highlighted Arabic and Mandarin Chinese because both have been labeled “critical languages” by the U.S. government because the need for trained speakers exceeds the number of bilingual speakers available and because these languages have been deemed critical for U.S. national security and ecomonic competitiveness.

As nice as it would be to add programs in Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, however, the fact is there are not a lot of teachers available, according to the report. There are programs that would help accelerate training of current EG teachers as well as partnering with URI.

Right now an after-school Arabic language class for 17 students is in its second year at the high school.

One question School Committee members posed was how to guard against following trends. As Supt. Mercurio noted, there was a time not too long ago when Japanese was the language de jour. A concern is that by shifting to Arabic or Mandarin, other long-standing foreign language offerings would suffer.

After some discussion, School Committee Chair Deidre Gifford asked Mercurio to conduct a feasibility study of some of the proposals, particularly with regard to the financial implications to adding Arabic at EGHS and adding 15 minutes of language instruction a day at the elementary level.

Wendy Fachon March 01, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Could 10-15 minute language instruction 'videos' be integrated into social studies classes at an elementary level? As we become one world, cultural studies are becoming more important. Growing up, my French language classes incorporated cultural studies - history, art, literature, food, currency, politics. Introduce video series in class, and provide access for students to practice with online videos at home. Does such a program exist out there?
Alan Clarke March 01, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I wonder sometimes how many Asian-speaking members of our society resist the temptation to insist that their language or dialect be an option available on ATM machines and traffic signs. In parts of Canada, traffic signs are in English and French. I got off the plane in Guatemala City and the lady at the airport information booth didn't speak English. I understand not speaking English in a Spanish-speaking country, but at an information booth? I felt silly when asking why a man who had been in the employ of an American family for 35 years never learned to speak English. He replied that he spoke two, how many did I speak? One, English. He spoke both Spanish and his Mayan dialect. Language is a funny thing. (His ears perked up when English was spoken in his presence so he did understand more than he was letting on.) I do not believe in teaching courses in subjects that are not in the student's future. However, I do think they should be available in some form but not mandatory. Perhaps a regional approach would service this better than school by school—one teacher, more students. Specifically interested students. Interesting topic though.
EG_Mom March 01, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Would like Russian language offered!
Gene Singleton March 02, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Actually, there is a better way than the videos at home you mentioned. For Mandarin Chinese, parents can order Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies that come with Chinese conversations (English as well) AND English subtitles (Chinese as well). The kids are already familiar with these movies, such as High School Musical, Harry Potter, Toy Story, but translated and dubbed in Chinese. Keeping the kids interested and letting them feel accomplished in learning a new language is the most important thing to them. Our 15 year old in Chinese speech competition is doing very well after the coach suggested the team to watch Chinese dubbed movies at home. Check out http://www.ChineseDubbed.com for great selection of these movies.


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