Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. I’m Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen and today we’re talking about retaining students in world language programs. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency.
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In this episode we are discussing our students, and how to keep them in our language programs through the advanced levels. We will talk a bit about what schools are doing to retain students, and then I’ll interview Casey Chon, who is studying Arabic education at Boston University. She’s going to share her ideas on keeping our student numbers up by retaining students, and keep our language programs growing.
According to a 2010 poll commissioned by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans surveyed believe that if our young people do not learn world languages, they will be at a competitive disadvantage in their careers.
The Committee for Economic Development reports that both large and small US businesses need employees with knowledge of world languages, and cultures to market products to customers around the globe, and work effectively with employees in the US and abroad. In fact, 63% of employees say foreign language is the most important basic skill students will need (Are they Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century US Workforce, 2006).
We need knowledge of foreign cultures and languages to compete in the global marketplace, to produce informed citizens, and even just to be successful in our own communities. A Roper Poll determined that due to our truly magnificent diversity, about half (48%) of people in the US have at least weekly dealings with someone whose first language is not English, and the majority were 18 to 34 year olds (Washington Times, December 8, 2004).
But our students are falling behind. Only a small percentage of US students study language enough to become minimally proficient. That’s 9.3% of the US are able to speak two languages, compared to 53% of Europeans- with numbers much higher in some countries (US Census Bureau). Why? Because only 25% of elementary schools in the US offer any world languages in 2008, dropping steadily since the 1990s.
Australia is in a similar situation with only about 10% of year 12 students including at least one language other than English in their course choices. In the UK, it has been compulsory for primary school children to be taught at least one language since 2014. But in 2004 it was no longer compulsory for secondary school pupils to have to study a foreign language at GCSE level.
If you are as astounded and mystified as I am about these facts and figures, please go to the links I’ve included in the show notes to see them for yourselves. I can assure you- this is not fake news.
Business leaders, and community leaders, committees, and universities- and even just informed citizens- all agree that students need to speak more languages. What I am interested in is why we do not have more students continuing in our programs until they have reached an advanced level of proficiency.
I had a very difficult time getting hard data from peer-reviewed research articles about the factors that lead to students dropping out of advanced level classes. Teachers reports that some factors affecting retention are teaching style, workloads, or students characteristics.
Approaches that are working in classrooms
- The teacher speaks and offers readings with understandable messages in the target language. For example, teachers who employ CI (Comprehensible Input) strategies recognize that students should understand 90% of the materials and the teacher’s own speech in the target language. Our classes have to be accessible to the students.
- Teachers will engage, connect, and motivate students when they use material that is interesting and relevant with their students.
In retaining students, it makes sense that students feel more comfortable in class and experience less anxiety when teachers use humor, personalized stories, and teaching methods that focus on understandable communication, rather than the direct grammar-translation methods.
Katrina Griffin, 2017 ACFTL National Foreign Language Teacher of the Year, tweeted to me this inspiring tweet about how her department retains students. She wrote
Our students can USE the language, we anchor with performance assessments and essential questions that hook students. We teach them skills that transfer. We have added 4 sections of language every year for 4 years and our classes are huge (10 sections of German alone)
— Katrina (@thekatrinagriff) September 30, 2018
Grant Boulanger (@grantboulanger), a phenomenal Latin teacher, (and I will include his twitter handle in the notes) also has had success in increasing the Latin program in his school, by switching from a traditional program to a CI approach. He shared an excellent peer reviewed article that I share below in the works cited, in which he describes how they raised both enrollment at achievement by focusing on CI-based instruction.
In the article, Robert Patrick says “Ten years ago when I replaced the retiring teacher in the school, she had 130 students in four levels of Latin. Her retention rate from Latin 1 through Latin 4 was .2 percent, that percentage represented by the one and only Latin 4 student. I began that year converting that traditional program to a CI approach. A decade later, we have 592 students registered in five levels of Latin and four of us preparing to teach Latin time beginning in 2015. Our retention rate this past year was 62 percent.”
Our teaching methods and materials are definitely a factor in student retention. In addition, students need to have some sort of internal or external motivation to learn the language. Why did they chose this particular language? Where do they hope to use it in the future? Do they see it as being useful?
My ESL students are generally much more motivated than my Spanish students, because they have a deep necessity to learn English as soon possible. For my Spanish students, I have a couple of web quests that emphasize the importance of learning Spanish, that I use at the beginning of the year. Our students can see that learning their new language has a purpose, is meaningful, and will impact their future. When we continuously give them real life skills, and show them that proficiency is attainable with realistic goals, they are motivated to continue in the language through the upper levels. And, I’m not going to lie- I have had students tell me directly that were going to continue in Spanish because my class was “fun.” When teachers can use humor and games and activities that get kids out of their seats, laughing and competing- students of course are more likely to enjoy learning, and choose to continue to the upper levels.
How do you motivate students in your classroom? How does your department or institution retain students through the upper levels? I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn your best practices. Join in the conversation on the Language Latte facebook group and share your best tips to stop student attrition- or tweet me @kidworldcitizen.
Interview with Casey Chon: Keeping Students in Our Language Programs
Our guest today is Casey Chon. Casey is studying Arabic education at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. She is also a BU Holmes Scholar through the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Beyond Arabic, she is passionate about diversity, inclusion, and inspiring the next generation of language learners to never stop learning. Welcome to the show Casey!
1) Tell me about yourself (your background or teaching experience, what you’re doing now)
2) I’m wondering if you can first give us a little history on Arabic language programs? When did schools start showing an interest in teaching Arabic in schools?
3) The next obvious questions would be about the certification programs. How have universities met the demand for Arabic education programs?
4) What does the typical student look like: who is choosing to take Arabic class, and why do they choose Arabic over the typically popular languages like Spanish and French?
Students have different motivations for studying Arabic.
5) Today we are discussing which factors affect attrition and retention in language programs. In the first segment, I mentioned factors such as teaching style, workloads, or students characteristics.. What do you think is the reason is for students dropping out of college Arabic classes at such high rates?
6) What can be done to retain the students in the programs?
7) Let’s talk about the positives. Tell me about what you have done in your program that has worked, and what the results have looked like.
Hassan wa Morcus (movie in Arabic that Casey mentions)
8) Where can our listeners find you, if they want to learn more? (not sure if you have a twitter or web site for the school?)
Additional Resources and Works Cited
Lo Bianco, J (2009). Second Languages and Australian Schooling. Australian Council for Educational Research.
Patrick, Robert (2015). Making Sense of Comprehensible Input in the Latin Classroom. Teaching Classical Languages. Spring issue. Pg 108-136.
NSLI for Youth: A US State Dept Program program for HS students: scholarships to go abroad to study less commonly taught world languages
I thought Casey had some great insights on retaining students, and I know she is going to make a fabulous Arabic teacher!
OK guys- before we go. I wanted to let you know that I have been working really hard on my newest endeavor: One World Trek. I am accepting applications right now to come join me in Merida, Mexico this June. We have 2 separate groups coming, for an amazing cultural and language immersion experience. If you would like to practice your Spanish, and discover the unique culture, traditions, cuisine, geography, and history of the Yucatan- go to OneWorldTrek.com and check out the details on our new teacher travel programs. I cannot wait to show you where we live, take you to my favorite cenotes, climb some pyramids with local guides, share some panuchos and cochinita with you. Let me know if you have any questions. Merida is the safest city in Mexico, and has been named the cultural capital of Latin America. You will love it!!
If you enjoyed this episode, please share our podcast with your friends and colleagues! I also love reading the reviews at the itunes store. Every time we get a review, Language Latte will come up higher in the search for more teachers. Finally, if you have more questions, or if you have great ideas that work in the classroom, we talk about language teaching 24/7, in our Language Latte facebook group, and I am also on twitter @kidworldcitizen.
I love to chat about questions or hear feedback you have about this episode, and to gather your ideas for future shows. Tell us what you’re doing in your language classroom!
To never miss an episode, subscribe on itunes, or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Language Latte is made possible by OneWorldTrek.com: language and cultural immersion travel for teachers in Mexico. It was so nice to meet you all. I look forward to chatting next time, and hopefully collaborating in the future! Until then, ciao!