Welcome to the World Language Café blog!
If you love languages, teaching, and learning about other cultures, this is the blog for you. I’m so excited to share language teaching tips, lessons I’ve learned from raising my kids bilingually (as a non-native speaker), and travel stories.
One of the first things I like to do the first week of school in my classroom is to ask my students, “Why are you studying a language?” After they give honest answers such as: “because I have to, so I can get into a good college, etc.”, I then ask them (in small groups) to come up with a list of why knowing another language (Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, etc.) could be useful in the future. We write the answers from each group on the board so they can see the list. I emphasize the global economy and the importance of knowing another language for your job, so you can communicate with employees and clients from other countries. I talk about the numbers of people in the world who speak certain languages:
Chinese – 1151 million, China
French – 200 million worldwide, official language of 28 countries: Belgium, Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Channel Islands, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Québec (Canada), Rwanda, Sénégal, Seychelles, parts of Switzerland, Togo, Vanuatu
German – 166 million worldwide, Germany
Italian – 85 million worldwide, official language of Italy and Switzerland
Russian – 277 million, official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan
Spanish – 500 million worldwide, 44 million in the US, official language of 20 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela
Then I talk about how almost every single adult I know wishes they knew more languages and not just a few words, but knew enough so they could really communicate. In Spanish class, I tell my students that some of them may marry someone who speaks another language or who has relatives who only speak another language and how valuable it is to be able to communicate with those people. When the students go to college, they may have a roommate from another country. Many of my former students have told me that they have had these exact experiences: one had a roommate from Colombia and another married a Mexican man and used her Spanish to talk to her in-laws.
Learning a second language creates new pathways and connections in your brain, making it more flexible and thus, easier to learn other languages in the future. They say that each language that you learn makes it exponentially easier to learn other languages. I have found this to be true as I learned French and Spanish as second and third languages myself.
However, for me the most important reason for learning another language is the joy that you get from being able to interact with someone from another culture in their language. As soon as I start speaking Spanish to a native speaker, they instantly become my friend and welcome me into their culture and family. This has happened to me in grocery stores, at highway rest stops, on trains in Europe, etc. You’d be surprised to know the stories that people will tell you and how helpful they are just because you are attempting to speak their language. It’s an amazing experience!
Hopefully, you can share some of this with your students during the first week of school to give them a sense of purpose (other than trying to get a good grade) to their learning. I’m looking forward to sharing more foreign language lesson plans, authentic videos of cultural events, tips and ideas to use in your Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Russian classrooms. Check out my resources here.
There is a free self-evaluation tool for world language students to get them to be accountable for their own learning and to teach them how to be better language learners. It’s a great tool to use at the beginning of the year and throughout the year. Looking forward to sharing more with you soon!
As always, happy teaching!