should foreign language classes be required in college?

In the December 2016 “Room for Debate” from the Opinion Pages of The New York Times, three high school students shared their thoughts on then-recent proposal by Princeton University that would require college students to study another language, even if they are already proficient in another language. The students’ responses varied significantly. Yes, one said. It’s a global world out there and students need to be able to communicate in another language besides English in order to be competitive. No, said the second. Learning to think is more important than struggling to express your thoughts in another language. It depends, said the third. It depends because it depends on a student’s goals; really, if we’re going to require students to learn a second language, we should really starting requiring it in kindergarten.

These students’ responses are not unlike responses politicians and educators have thrown around in the past, but what I find interesting is the common threads they all share. First, each of these students recognizes that, by the time a student reaches college, it’s already way too late to introduce them to a second language: The time to learn a language is when you’re young and your brain’s neural pathways are still being formed. Second, they all recognize the inherent value of knowing a second (or third, or fourth) language. The way they define these values are different, but they all see second-language learning as being beneficial. And third, they all feel that something needs to be changed about the way second-language learning is being approached in the United States. The American education system is falling short and, in so doing, failing our children.

And I have to say, I agree. The American education system is failing its children, and something does need to be done — long before students reach college. Learning a second language is critical for all kinds of reasons, but the one I feel most strongly about is one that isn’t usually talked about — or at least isn’t fully understood.

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With a group of 5th graders in Taiwan. Can you find me? :D

When I was 25 I moved to Taiwan. I moved to a little city called Sanjhih, about an hour north of Taipei, to teach English at a camp for 5th graders. Originally I was only going to stay for seven months, but I ended up staying for two years, and afterward I lived in Hong Kong for a year. In both cities I found myself surrounded by an unfamiliar people, language, and culture, and at first it was really hard. I was incredibly homesick and thought many times about returning home. Ultimately, though, it was my students who changed my mind. My Taiwanese students — bright, inquisitive 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds — were for the most part incredibly sweet, and I was blown away not only by their sweetness, but also by their similarity to the 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds I knew back home, as well as by their aptitude for English. Many of my students were already quite adept English speakers — fluent, even — despite the drastic difference between the English language and their native tongues. But more than that, English or no English, they were kids like any other kids found anywhere else in the world. The barriers that cultures and countries and religion and political systems create wasn’t in place yet. These kids were just KIDS. (People are PEOPLE.)

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Suffice it to say when I came back to the United States, I returned with a new set of eyes. I could no longer see my own country in the same light, nor I could I see those from other countries in the same light. A foreigner struggling to ask for directions in broken English was a person in a strange land trying to get by, just as I had been trying to get by, struggling to ask for directions in Mandarin at a 7-11 in Taiwan. The noisy group of tourists from mainland China was no longer an annoying group of tourists but an interesting group of people with a unique culture and background. Living abroad and the little bit of Mandarin and Cantonese I’d learned while I was there had changed my perspective on the entire world immensely, and I would never be able to go back to the narrower mindset I’d had before.

That said, it is very true that, because I wasn’t (and still am not) fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese, I felt very isolated while living abroad. I know that if I’d been able to communicate more easily, I would have gained a better understanding of the culture in which I was living. I also recognized while living abroad just how difficult it would be to master a second language like Mandarin, and that if I would ever have been able to do so, I would need to have started very young — very young, as in, kindergarten.

jGHNy51According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, American students lag way behind European students in language learning. In her article presenting the study, Kat Devlin says, “Across Europe, students typically begin studying their first foreign language as a required school subject between the ages of 6 and 9. Furthermore, studying a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory in more than 20 European countries . . . Meanwhile, far fewer K-12 students in the U.S. participate in foreign language education. Throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 20 percent of K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes, according to a 2017 report from the nonprofit American Councils for International Education.”

This is, I feel, more than a shame — it’s doing our students harm. The cognitive benefits of learning a second language have been proven time and time again. The potential for improved job prospects and general understanding of other cultures is also vastly improved by knowledge of other languages. The United States is home to people from all different backgrounds, with roughly 65.3 million Americans over the age of four (i.e., approx. 21 percent) speaking a language other than English at home (2015 U.S. Census). If this is the case, and if my own experience in Asia is true (which it most certainly is), how much could we stand to gain if we started implementing the European language-learning model in our country? What would the results be if we started teaching our kids a second language in kindergarten? How much wiser would they be? How much more understanding of others? How much more competitive in the global job market? How much more culturally aware both abroad and at home?

At the rate the United States is going, we’ll likely never know. Things seem to move at a snails’ pace when it comes to making changes in education at the federal level. According to Dan Davidson’s “Notes on the American Academy Commission Report: America’s Languages (2017),” the founders of our country understood that “the study of language in the U.S. was a complex and varied endeavor, so much so that they determined not to establish an official state language for the new nation. They supported inquiries into what they referred to as the ‘rationale, genius and idiom of the English language,’” as well as examined Native American languages and linguistics more generally, as they believed that an “appreciation of the plurality of languages would improve communication domestically and internationally, and help the new nation understand its place in a changing world.” And yet here we are more than 200 years later, lagging behind the rest of the world in this very key area.

That said, if anyone brings up the argument, “Well, if we’re going to teach a second language, what language should we teach? There are so many here in the States, after all—how do you choose?” To them, I say, Any spoken language! It doesn’t matter. The results and benefits of knowing a second or third are the same no matter what language is being studied.

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With my language-exchange friends in Taiwan–Mandarin is hard!

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Note: Sorry for my long absence! I actually wrote this as an assignment for a grad school class. Grad school is hard!

nobody knows

I didn’t mean to let this sit so long. There’s a story here that hasn’t been told.

It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl walking her dog under the shade of oak trees in the California sun. She wondered why she had to feel this way. She was scared of her feelings. Her crush had written her a letter. He liked her, too.

Why, if she had food to eat and air to breathe, why did she have to have emotions, too? Even at 14, she was scared of rejection.

Fast forward a thousand years. Her heart’s been broken many times. He loved her—and still does—but he had a higher calling to attend to.

She will always love him.

At 1,034, she’s a million years old. The world is her oyster, but even that is not enough. She’s one in a billion, and her story is the same. How can she matter? How can this mean . . . anything?

She’s seen a lot in a million years. Most recently it’s been adults acting like children. At our cores we all want the same things—love and acceptance. Why is this so hard to admit?

. . . and where are all the dreamers? The ones who think beyond the here and now? They are few and far between, it seems. And she doesn’t understand.

And so she fights for her life as she rides out life’s storm, and she fights for her life on the train. And she goes . . . nobody knows . . . Except for the dreamers. They’re one in the same.

P.S. Happy Independence Day, America.

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*Featured image: Mine. Taken in Knoxville on a bike ride two days ago!!

the trouble is . . .

“. . . you think you have time.” — Buddha

I tried to write a blog post tonight. I really did. I had it all written out, but then my formatting was off, and I didn’t know how to fix it, and then I somehow erased it, and I just don’t have TIME to redo it all now.

My post, incidentally, was about “time,” and I was going to share the below video. The clip is somewhat cliché, but it hones in on how precious time really is and how too often we waste it.

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Continue reading

the assimilation effect

Happy Cindo de Mayo!! Cheers! Err . . .  I mean, Salud! Err . . .

Oh, wait. You mean, that was yesterday? Ohhh, crap.

(Ugh, I have a headache! And who are you? And where are my shoes?!)

Lol, okay, so the above did not happen to me this morning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I celebrated Cinco de Mayo. I’m not much a tequila drinker, and I’m too much of an introvert for rowdy parties. My idea of a wild night is running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. 😂

That said, while I was out running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (yes, that’s really how I spent Cinco de Mayo), I couldn’t help noticing how busy Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant in West Knoxville was until late last night. American’s sure do enjoy celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day!

Oh, wait. Say, whaaa? You mean that’s not what Cinco de Mayo is about? Continue reading

we’re just a little unwell

Gone are the days of face-to-face interaction, when being social actually meant talking to someone — in person.

I have this love-hate relationship with Facebook. Some of you know what I’m talking about. On the one hand, it allows me to stay in touch with friends I’ve made at various points in my life around the globe. I have friends from grade school, friends from abroad, friends I’ve made blogging. With some of Facebook’s newer features like the “Calendar,” I can discover local events I wouldn’t otherwise know about, including races to participate in and concerts to attend. It’s fun to watch my friends’ kids grow and neat to see what people are up to.

That said, Facebook can also be a terrible thing. It can be a time suck, a comparison trap, an excuse for and detractor from “real” relationships, and an overall waste of life. It’s “On this day” feature sucks at differentiating between good and painful memories, and sometimes it makes me feel plain old. It’s been EIGHT years since such-and-such? I swear that was just yesterday!

I haven’t ever delved into Instagram or Tumblr and haven’t spent much time on Twitter. At some point these platforms just seem like another thing to check, another waste of life. Sadly, I think I’m going to become one of those “out of touch” middle-aged people who’s still blasting Matchbox 20 like they’re cool when it’s actually Drake who’s popular now.

Oh, and of course there’s that whole discussion about how much of our personal information Facebook has — how nothing in our lives is private anymore . . .

Countless studies have been done showing the negative effects of social media on people and society, and yet it’s apparent social media isn’t going away any time soon. I have no idea how I’ll handle social media if I ever have kids. When I was in school, a boy had to call and talk to my DAD in order to get a hold of me after school. These days, I don’t even have a landline!

And so, am I nostalgic for the “olden days”? Maybe a little. My friend Sam posted this music video online the other day. Matchbox 20 released “Unwell” as a single fifteen years ago. Sheesh. The funny thing? The song’s message is just as relatable now as it was back then, if not more so. Some things never change.

These days I try to keep my time on facebook and other social media to a minimum.
What about you? What’s your relationship with social media?

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*Images Institute Al Islam and Study Breaks magazine

the REAL problem

(Hint: It’s not guns.)

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A post by Florida Teacher of the Year Kelly Guthrie Raley has gone viral in the last 48 hours. In it, she cites mental health, violent video games, and “horrendous lack of parental support” as being at the root of America’s gun problem.

“Until we as a country are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support . . . (Oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it — violent video games, which take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives — as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves — we will have a gun problem in school,” the sixth-grade language arts teacher wrote.

Raley herself hunts and grew up around guns. “But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me,” she said. “When I began teaching twenty years ago, I never had to worry about calling a student’s parents and getting cussed out, told to go to hell, or threatened with a public shaming — all because I was calling out their child’s behavior. Something has got to change.”

 

The below video is an example of the disrespect many teachers in U.S. classrooms face today.

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Interestingly, at the same time parental support has decreased and problems like the ones Raley mentions have risen, the use of social media has increased. People around the world can converse more easily now than ever before, and it’s telling that, rather than increase tolerance and understanding, this communication is doing quite the opposite.

Take any article posted on facebook as an example. If you check out the comments section, you’ll see complete strangers verbally attacking one another — simply for having a difference of opinion. This is true for people of all backgrounds and religious creeds, all ethnicities, and all sides of the political spectrum. And, quite frankly, I find it disgusting. And painful. Why are people so rotten?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re “right” or “wrong” on an issue. What matters is how you treat others and approach the debate.

How else are you ever going to gain any real insight on an issue? How else are you going to find solutions? Or, if you’re not there to understand and fix the problem, how else are you going to convince others that you’re right? Not by calling them names, I can assure you.

And also, your children are watching.

The truth is, we’re a broken nation, and the only way to fix our problems is to take a good look at ourselves. No, stricter gun laws won’t fix America’s problems — we need a miracle for that (or a million of them). But if we made it just a little bit harder for just anyone to pick up a gun and do god-knows-what with it, it could help save us from ourselves.

divided, we fall

I don’t want to write this post. I’ve already written it — several times. But here it is, relevant again . . .

 . . . But, no! I’m not going to write this post. I started it last night, but I just can’t finish it. I can’t re-say what I’ve already said . . .

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But how can I stay silent?

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United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

Americans are united in the belief that mass shootings on U.S. soil need to stop. We are divided about how to stop them.

And so they keep happening.

And so people keep dying.

And so madmen keep shooting.

And so the story keeps cycling.

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The facts are these: The United States has more guns than any other nation. We also have more gun-related crimes, homicides, and deaths. We do not have more mental illness. (Don’t believe me? Check out this New York Times article. It shows the stats better than I can.)
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But crazy is crazy. If it’s not guns, it will be something else.

That’s not what the statistics say. If there were fewer guns, there’d be fewer deaths. Period.

But I won’t give up my right to protect my family!

No one’s asking you to give up your right to protect your family. They’re asking for laws to keep AK-15s away from the people who would hurt your family.

But I like to hunt and target shoot. I won’t give up my guns.

Did you hear what I just said? Here’s another way to look at it: Why would we require someone to pass a test to drive a car but not to own a gun?

But I don’t trust the government. The government is trying to take away our guns.

Really?! President Trump didn’t even mention guns when he addressed the people of Parkland on Thursday. And beyond that, that’s beside the point. The point is that PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE OUR SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING. Period.

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The below video from CNN shows disturbing footage of the Florida shooting on Wednesday. I cried watching it, but it needs to be seen. The fact that American law allows individuals to buy AK-15s before they can buy a beer is INSANE.

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But I’ve already said all this, and I don’t want to say it anymore.

I’m tired of the fighting on the Internet. I’m tired of the cruelty and bigotry. I’m tired of the pain . . . I’m tired of it all, and so the very last thing I’ll add is this:

I’m currently in grad school because I want to become a teacher. And when I become a teacher, I would GLADLY die to save the lives of my students if ever I needed to. But quite frankly, I’d rather not die for them. I’d rather live for them, AND HAVE THEM LIVE, TOO.

Wouldn’t you?

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This video is well-done. I think most people would say today: We’re ready to talk about it.

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I’ve posted this video by Trae Crowder before. It’s relevant now, too.