Thursday, February 28, 2013

Language as a Means: The Multiple Ends of Language Learning

At Global Language Project, our approach is to think about language proficiency not only as an end in itself, but as a means for students to achieve success in a multitude of areas.  Our curriculum is designed to make direct links between learning the structure of a new language and the core subjects that students are learning in their daily classes and core subjects. Students need to engage on a deep level with another language not only to gain more opportunities in the workforce, but to also develop the skills they already are cultivating in the classroom. These skills are also critical ones for students in higher education and in the workforce.

Often in public schools, we see world language learning siphoned off into its own category, which leaves students and educators perplexed as to why achieving language proficiency becomes such a challenging process. As foreign as a new language might seem, we believe that there is a way to make learning a new language a process that students can identify with and in which they can find familiarity.  At GLP, our language classes are structured so that students reinforce the multiple skill sets, including social habits, they are learning in the classroom, but through the eyes of another language and culture.  Doing math exercises, for example, in Spanish not only enhances student comprehension of new Spanish vocabulary but also reinforces basic mathematical skills. Looking at the lives of important figures in the history of Spanish-speaking countries not only provides students with important cultural knowledge of a region, but also enables an appreciation of history as a way of looking at the world.

While language is our starting point, in many ways, the ends we hope to achieve are bigger, and the stakes higher. Many of GLP’s students come from communities that have limited educational resources and that suffer from poverty and its social consequences. We have found that our language programs have given students a safe space to channel their energies into something productive, and to see the value in developing teamwork, leadership skills, and productive relationships with their peers. In other words, language learning becomes common ground for giving students in under-served communities the chance to work towards broader goals for themselves and even for their local neighborhoods. 

 Whether our students are saying Hola!, Ni Hao!, Bonjour!, or Marhaba!, the value of learning another language remains constant. For us, it is about enabling students to become a better version of themselves as students, as potential members of the workforce, as global citizens, and as members of their communities. 

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