Saturday, June 5, 2010

Watch Your Language!

Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.
- Dave Barry

The above quote by humorist Dave Barry is funny, yes, but would be even funnier if it weren’t so true. Despite foreign language course offerings in U.S. schools, Americans don’t seem to place much of a premium on the ability to speak languages other than English. While English is still the predominate language used in international business, the CIA World Fact Book contends that only 5.6% of the world’s population speaks English as a primary language.

When I was in middle school and high school, there were two foreign language options: French and Spanish. While these still may be two of the most commonly offered foreign languages in American schools, they are far from being the only languages now offered. Mandarin Chinese, Italian, American Sign Language, and German are also popular offerings, while languages such as Japanese and Russian have seen a slight decline in student enrollment over the past few years. The U.S. State Department has issued a list of “critical need” languages, including Arabic, Persian, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Punjabi, Turkish, Indonesian, and Azerbaijani. Are any of these offered in your school?

Budget cuts have forced many schools to eliminate foreign language courses altogether – worrisome news for a nation that needs multilingual graduates to conduct diplomacy and compete effectively in the global marketplace. My picks this week focus on various types of foreign language resources that are hopefully engaging enough to provoke some students to focus more intently on acquiring another language.

Stroke Order
Subjects: Foreign Language, Chinese, Japanese
Grade: 9-12, University, Continuing Education
Stroke Order is an online animation tool that allows students to view the stroke order rules for Chinese characters (a page for Japanese characters is in development). Written directions accompany each type of stroke, and an animated example of each key rule is demonstrated. Developed by Skritter, a company that aims to help students learn and remember Chinese and Japanese characters.

The Five Minute Twitter Verb Crunch Drill
Subjects: Foreign languages, Latin
Grades: 6-12
This outline presents a five minute verb crunch drill for Latin students using Twitter. I love the creativity of this exercise, as well as its simplicity. While the students (and teacher) need to have some comfort level using Diigo and Twitterfall, this activity can pay rich dividends in getting students to grasp the material much faster. This drill can also be adapted for other subjects. This exercise was originally posted on the TeachPaperless blog, which is dedicated to helping teachers to teach “greener” and support each other’s efforts via social networking.

Russian Alphabet
Subjects: Foreign Languages, Russian
Grade: 7-12
This resource provides a comprehensive guide to the Russian alphabet. Russian letters are presented, along with their pronunciation and spelling rules. Audio files and exercises for additional practice are also included. This resource was created by, which offers free Russian language lessons from novice to advanced levels complete with exercises and audio files for correct pronunciation.


  1. You are so right. Foreign languages don't seem to be getting the attention they deserve in most schools across the nation. I wasn't offered a foreign language until I was in middle school. I wish I had had the opportunity to start learning another language at a young age. Our only options were French and Spanish. I did learn some Hebrew in high school at my church as I prepared to visit Israel. These are excellent resources for expanding our world view and learning a new language.

  2. It seems as funding decreases, language offerings are quick to suffer. Hopefully tools like these will help students enjoy learning new languages and even do some independent study.


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