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ACTFL TOY Hall of Fame

View past winners and finalists:

2013: Noah Geisel (Winner)
2012: Yo Azama (Winner)
2011: Clarissa Adams-Fletcher (Winner)
2010: Lisa Lilley (Winner)
2009: Toni Theisen (Winner)
2008: Janet Glass (Winner)
2007: Christine Lanphere (Winner)
2006: Ken Stewart (2007 Winner)

2014 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year

Linda Egnatz

Lincoln-Way Community High School
Frankfort, IL
Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is pleased to announce the 2014 National Language Teacher of the Year Award has been awarded to Linda Egnatz, a Spanish language teacher from Lincoln-Way Community High School in Frankfort, IL and a member of the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The award presentation was held during the Opening General Session of the 2013 ACTFL Convention & World Languages Expo in Orlando, FL.
The award for the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year is intended to elevate the status of the language teaching profession at the state, regional, and national levels by creating opportunities for recognizing the most accomplished members of the profession. The Teacher of the Year becomes a spokesperson for the language profession in order to increase the visibility of the importance of learning languages and cultures to the general public.

Robert Patrick

Parkview High School
Lawrenceville, GA
2014 Finalist from SCOLT

Studying and learning a language and the culture or cultures that clothe that language have the power to challenge the individual self into a new state of awareness inviting the learner into expanded personal space.  Languages and cultures different from my own have always captured my attention.  The sounds, appearances, smells, tastes and textures always stole my attention and led me into something, or the promise of something, larger than my life at the time. In simplest terms, the value of learning language and culture is that both can change the soul of the human being--for the good.  I understand the human soul to be the potential self that each person is ultimately becoming.  Another people’s language and their cultural clothing invite and challenge my own soul to its full potential.

I recall an early realization that other human beings carried on daily lives in many ways like mine but with words and phrases totally other than mine. There is both an adventure and a terror waiting the learner of a new language.  My initial studies introduced me to the adventure:  how does this phrase in the second language begin to feel and communicate in me, to me, and through me like English already does for me?  I found that question to be my constant companion. I have also, in subsequent years, found myself exhausted after days of speaking a second language, longing to hear English again, feeling that somehow I was losing myself without English, or, to extend the metaphor, that I was being exposed without my native language and its attendant culture clothing me.  In both cases, the joy and suffering in the study of the second language expanded my sense of myself.

The cultural clothing of a language reveals the depth of meaning in human communication.   The displays of culture, subtle and not so subtle, invite the learner to witness the multivalent attention for which communication calls.  Recently during a service telephone call, the service technician told my wife that he could not speak to her.  She was “the wife” and he was required to speak with “the husband.”  Later, we discussed how this gentleman, sitting in India, speaking English to these two Americans was actually trying to tell us that my name was the primary name on the account and because of that, he could only speak to me about the service.  His words were at first cloaked and then revealed by varying cultures.  Learning and practicing multivalent attention expands the soul, expands the person.  To hear words, their usage, the contexts, who speaks them, and to attend to all of those features in order to understand deeply is both what learning a language and culture can do in a human being and what the mature humanity summons in us.  For these reasons I think that it is fair to say that the study of a language and culture can be a significant tool in human spirituality, in human development, in the daily work of human wisdom.

Taeko Tashibu

Roosevelt High School
Seattle, WA
2014 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council For Languages

I would like to list a few of the ways that I promote student’s exposure to Japanese use and culture beyond the classroom setting. The first, and perhaps largest, exposure to culture that the students in my classes have is gained from our sister school connections with Tatsuno High School in Tatsuno, Hyogo, Japan. A delegation of their students comes to our high school annually, and we visit them biannually. When the Tatsuno delegation comes to visit, it gives all of the Japanese language students a chance to interact with Japanese peers, even if they have never gone to Japan themselves. Because the students are in a similar age range, it gives the students a real chance to use Japanese for communication in real life situations. For the delegations from our school that visit Japan, it is a chance for them to be immersed in Japanese culture for a while and experience homestays.

Secondly, there is the annual Washington State High School Japanese Speech and Skit Contest. I’m very happy to say that every year some of my students participate in different levels of this competition. It is a chance for students to use their Japanese communication skills in a different setting than my classroom. And it gives them a chance to come with other schools in the state. We often goon a class field trip and it gives my students the chance to hear all different levels of Japanese use and encourages them to continue their Japanese studies. For the past decade, the first place prize for speech has included a trip to Japan, so a number of my students have also been able to participate in homestays and more Japanese culture because of this event. This year, one of my students won at the 3rd level and went back to his Japanese immersion elementary school, and presented his speech to them after he participated in the official speech contest.

Thirdly, there is a High School Language & Culture Camp. For many years this camp was partially funded by the Consulate General of Japan, Seattle, which allowed overnight experience of Japanese culture in an immersion setting at Camp Don Bosco. This camp gives students the opportunity to be surrounded by Japanese speakers, and it encouraged them to use their Japanese skills for practical communication. It is a great opportunity, especially for students who might not be able to afford trips to Japan. It also fosters more confidence in their Japanese skills because they are using it with people besides their classroom teacher. It also allows them to see many different people using the language: from college students to community volunteers and other Japanese teachers.

Finally, this past year, the Japanese program at Roosevelt High School was selected to be part of the Kizuna Project. This is a project where around one thousand American students were given the opportunity to visit Japan, specifically the Tohoku region, the region devastated by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. The project’s purpose was to show how quickly they have been able to recover some parts of the area, and to show appreciation for the support that the United States gave after the earthquake. It also helps to support better understanding of natural disasters and the prevention of them. In exchange for this wonderful opportunity, the students hosted a Japanese student from the same area when they visited for a few days earlier this year. The picture for his shows two of the students at the 2nd annual memorial of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that took place at the Seattle Center the day the group arrived.

Besides those four major events that I encourage my students to participate in, I also encourage students to expose themselves to Japanese culture in other, smaller ways. For example, for my AP students I encourage them to find different articles they can read in Japanese as well as graphic novels. These are sometimes things that only the highest level students can do. I also encourage them to watch Japanese movie without subtitles. For the lower level classes as well as AP I always encourage them to go to Japanese restaurants or make Japanese food at home. I also encourage them to participate and volunteer in different Japanese cultural events throughout the year, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Obon Festival that take place locally. There is also an international film festival held in the city every year, and there are usually many Japanese films that I encourage my students to go and see, which they can do at all levels because of the subtitles. Sometimes to encourage students to do these types of things outside of the classroom, I have allowed them to show what they have done during class time, and sometimes include it as extra credit. In these ways, as well as others, I encourage my students to bring different aspects of Japanese culture and life into their own.

Margarita Boyatzi Dempsey

Smithfield High School
Greenville, RI
2014 Finalist from Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language

Teaching a foreign language is the best job in the world.    I have been fortunate enough to have been teaching foreign languages for over thirty years.  There is no other discipline where students can so easily demonstrate what they have learned and the progress they have made from September to June.  Students learn at different speeds but they ALL learn.  It is a gift to witness their successes.  And I have learned along with them.  I do not teach the same way I did when I started my career.   My classroom has changed from teacher-centered to student-centered.   Now my students move at their own pace, work independently or in groups, use technology and learn vocabulary and grammar in context.   I ask my students to present tasks, to interact with other students and to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning.  I am more aware of using checks for understanding to inform my planning and classroom practices.  I know, and my students know, what the end product will be and what the essential questions are when we begin a unit.   I can then scaffold activities and help students make the connections in order to be successful.  Culture is integrated in everything we do, whether it’s part of the vocabulary theme or grammar point or a YouTube clip.  Making students aware and therefore more tolerant and accepting of other cultures is one of the most important things I do.  Thanks to technology students can see, hear and read about people throughout the world and what is happening this very minute.  Technology allows my students to write blogs, make videos and games, plan a Facebook page and create short stories.  They use technology to research and present projects and also to listen to music or news broadcasts.  It opens the world to them.  

Part of my responsibility is to make our community aware of the importance of learning a second language and that is a constant struggle. I continually remind parents and administration of the connection between foreign language study and improved literacy skills.   I also keep our activities and accomplishments in the public eye.   We have a very successful FLITES (French Language in the Elementary Schools) program.  FLITES is a voluntary after school program where my advanced French students teach fourth graders basic French dialogue.  I use many drama techniques in my class and I have my French V and Spanish V classes present a short play which they have written at our school’s Evening of the Arts. I have also organized trips abroad to Canada, Spain and France.    All of these activities keep our program exciting and offer unique experiences for our students.  It is a wonderful way for students to integrate what they have learned into the real world.  It doesn’t get much better than that!  I am very proud to be a French and Spanish teacher.

Norma E. Arroyo

Fossil Ridge High
Fort Collins, CO
2014 Finalist from SWCOLT

I have always believed that how students interact and are able to practice what they are learning in the classroom is equally important for the student’s learning of language experience in the classroom.   Through my 23 years I have engaged my students in many educational and cultural experiences.  To begin, I have of course done the obvious; traveled!   My students and I have gone to Spain, Portugal, France, Costa Rica and New York City.  While my trips to Spain and Costa Rica supported the teaching of Spanish for my students, it was the trips to Portugal and France that proved to be the biggest learning experience.  My students were convinced that because none of us spoke Portuguese or French that we were doomed to wander, go hungry, and suffer neglect by the people who lived and worked there.  What an eye opening experience to find that as language learners, we were welcomed and appreciated.  We always found alternative ways to communicate and it was incredible fun!

But traveling is expensive and not all students are able to afford such a luxury.  What can a teacher do?  I say, immerse them!  Teachers know that they best way to reinforce learning is by teaching; we know this because this is what we do.  A few years ago I teamed up with our feeder middle school and my students and I traveled once each quarter to teach the level 1 classes.  This was a win-win situation.  My students were able to review, reinforce and practice what they have learned, I got to meet prospective students, and the middle schoolers were able to interact with high-schoolers relieving many misconceptions related to entering high school.  During that first year our local college, Colorado State University, awarded us with the Cesar Chavez award for community service related to culture.

This experience has also been invaluable, but once again, limited to only the students that are able to transport themselves and had cars.  I am constantly seeking for ideas that will help support our program, provide opportunities to involve all of our students, and to promote culture.  My language department and I brainstormed and decided to offer a “World culture day” each year on the Monday and Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving.  On this day, each of our classrooms hosts a speaker from different countries, each different every period.   Among our speakers we have had foreign exchange students, Doctors Without Borders, Peace Corps participants, parents, veterans, retired veterans, student travel companies, and Latin dancing classes, just to name a few.  The students absolutely love it!  (next is the link as it appeared in the newspaper: - that is me in the front teaching!)

What happens in our classrooms is only the beginning of a journey.  When I started teaching at Fossil Ridge in 2005, being a new school, I was afforded the opportunity to “design” my own curriculum at the school, hire the teachers, and follow it through.  My vision was simple:  Encourage student performance in the target language.  In only 6 years, we grew to be the largest world language department in the Poudre school district, and the number of students pursuing language classes and our AP enrollment is double as that of any of the other 4 high schools.  Two of them have more than 5 times the number of heritage speakers and an IB program, but neither can compete with ours.    When you ask our students about why, they always tell us that what we encourage them to do is “real” and they can use it.   They can take what they are learning in our classrooms beyond our walls and pursue more interests taking them to understand and appreciate other cultures.

2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year

Noah Geisel

Denver East High School
Denver, CO
Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

Noah Geisel, a Spanish teacher at East High School in Denver, CO, was named the 2013 National Language Teacher of the Year by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) at the organization’s annual convention held in Philadelphia, PA.

In 1939, my grandfather was released from a concentration camp. His family secured passage out of their homeland, to America. When asked his last name by Immigration officials, Grandpa, who only spoke German, spelled G-e-i-s-e-l in English. The feat required unimaginable determination. He had to risk speaking a foreign language or the family name would have been phonetically transcribed.

Grandpa was so proud that “Geisel was not an Ellis Island name.” The phrase became a family mantra, standing for the opportunities of learning another language.

Adhering to the mantra, my parents decided it was important for us to grow up in a diverse, predominately Hispanic neighborhood and attend the feeder middle school. Although I took Spanish classes, “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?” wasn’t saving my life nor winning friends. For that, I owe Felipe Garcia.

Under Felipe’s protection, I was only moderately messed with and messed up. The Spanish he taught me was not in Señora Kyte’s lesson plan. Through invitations to his home, I first experienced Spanish: helping Mrs. Garcia make tortillas, listening to Mr. Garcia recount his own family’s immigration story, and meeting cousins who invited me to quinceañeras.

From my time spent with the Garcia’s, Spanish was no longer a bunch of words to memorize or conjugate—it was a gateway to music, cuisine, history, fashion, tradition, travel, and ultimately, a career.

My enthusiasm for teaching Spanish comes from my love for language and culture, and belief that language learning and understanding of other cultures are essential to my students’ futures. Imparting these beliefs is a daily classroom challenge. I hope to inspire students by sharing the benefits of my own learning. My travels that have been more adventurous because of connections I made by speaking Spanish. My work on a Hollywood film casting native-speaking extras. My summers spent in Costa Rican villages, building schools and community centers, connecting not just with my hosts’ minds, but –by speaking their language—their hearts as well.

Further, I delve to create connections relevant to their lives. We celebrate Dominican Republic’s Independence Day by chatting online with a Dominican poet; view a film set in a Puerto Rican high school and Skype with the directors to discuss issues such as scho0ol uniforms; study the Day of the Dead and then march with an actual parade. I seized any opportunity to help students use their learning to make connections and connect with others, because Geisel and Garcia are connected by more than a single letter G.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “Our country needs to create a future in which all Americans understand that be speaking more than one language, they are enabling our country to compete successfully and work collaboratively with partners across the globe.” It is my job as a teacher to translate this into an idea that will inspire my students to begin their own journey of language learning and cultural understanding, for the betterment of their futures as well as the world’s.


Thomas Soth

Northwest Guilford High School
Greensboro, NC
2013 Finalists from Foreign Language Association of North Carolina (FLANC)

“Why can’t everyone just speak English?” is an often heard question and complaint I hear from level one students coming to terms with the “shock” and challenges of learning a new language.   In itself, the question expresses the ethnocentric “everyone should speak just like me” which inevitably holds an erroneous logic that devalues the way that others communicate.  It addresses the need for students to expand their linguistic horizons and expresses a cultural mindset that learners must move beyond if we want to build and sustain mutually beneficial and peaceful relationships in our communities, our nations, and our world.

In a world where the political, economic, and social aspects of all peoples are becoming increasingly interconnected, the skills garnished through learning languages are and will be exponentially important to the creation of productive local and global relations.  An awareness of cultures and languages is a requisite for people who want to participate in the global market and who seek to understand and help others around them. Countries, businesses, communities, and families increasingly rely on individuals that can help them negotiate the cultural pluralism of the earth.  Whether you are the UN trying to negotiate a peace conference, an international business, a multilingual community trying to break down communication barriers or an immigrant family trying to enroll a child at school, your ability to communicate relies heavily on the linguistic and the cultural understanding of all parties involved.   

Thus, I believe that the learning of language and culture is necessary for all 21st century citizens because language and culture skills are the skills needed to participate actively in the modern village, nation, and world. Active participants must be able to fuse critical thinking with communication and collaboration.  Creativity can then be shared and spark greater innovations that will help all people.  Those involved must have the skills necessary to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams.  Long well-articulated sequences of language and culture instruction give learners these skills as well as the ability to empathize with the world views of others.  In the classroom I see how these skills lead students to connect to ideas and communities unavailable to the ethnocentric individual but vital for positive participation in the global community.  

Further, our students’ understanding of others’ views gives them a better lens to view their own behavior, which in turn helps them understand and connect better to their communities.  Without the comparisons made through the study of languages and cultures, individuals may not learn to value how others view the world.  A lack of understanding of languages and cultures, the “Why can’t everyone communicate just like me?” attitude, only serves to hold individuals, communities and nations prisoner to their own ethnocentric ideology.  It is my responsibility, as a teacher, to help individuals move beyond their world view through the study of language and culture so that they may acquire the skills necessary to build positive relationships in the 21st century.


Leslie Boaz

Wheatland High School
Wheatland, WY
2013 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council For Languages (PNCFL)

I grew up in a small town in a rural state and have always worked in small schools. I enjoy the small community lifestyle but I also believe that all students need access to language learning. The skills and confidence that students acquire in the language classroom are immeasurable. Students need to have the opportunity to gain the skills to work with people throughout the world in today’s global society. Regardless of where students live they need to develop the skills of the 21st century. They also need to be able to speak accurately and with confidence in the world languages necessary for economic and national security.

The main value of language study is a student gaining a working knowledge of a second language and culture. Every day I endeavor to foster an understanding of cultures and societies and to create people who can interact globally. Students learn cultural values and gain the ability to travel or work in a non-English speaking community. Living in a small community poses problems for students to be able to use and improve their language skills. Yet I believe it is my job to encourage students to seek out everyday interactions in their second language. Language study opens the doors to a whole new world. Our classrooms expose students to other disciplines such as art, literature, science and history. I believe that encouraging a deeper exploration of these subjects fosters lifelong learning of language, culture and beyond.

As teachers it is our job to ensure that students have the skills necessary to succeed in life after school. The skills in my classroom go beyond the language and allow students to become better readers, writers, problem solvers and have increased creativity. When they are able to use their creativity and solve problems on a daily basis, students grow in confidence; in their willingness to consider new ideas without feeling threatened, and to explore other ideas and cultures. In addition to language skills, students grow in their ability to work with others to solve problems and take responsibility for their work. These skills provide the avenues for success in college, work and the military.

I truly believe that every student in every corner, big or small, of our country must be able to access language learning for their own personal benefit as well as that of our country. Language learning is so valuable that a price tag cannot be placed on it. I emphasize its importance every day in my classroom as I share new or interesting facts about the languages and cultures I teach. Why am I always promoting language and culture? Because it is my job and my passion! As a language teacher, I seek to inspire and encourage my students to always look for the benefits of language in their lives.


Jill Woerner

Pendleton Heights Middle School
Pendleton, IN
2013 Finalist from Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)

Should I be chosen as the 2012 Teacher of the Year, I would be both humbled and delighted to serve in any capacity possible to advance world language education. I will work tirelessly and passionately to promote the instruction of a variety of languages that serve both students and our society. I would plan to establish meetings with government officials and put crucial details in front of them or their staffers to help them understand the role that they play in the status of global competency in our country. The expectation would be to aid with letter writing, take part in meetings and present to school district officials and administrators to validate both maintaining and expanding world language offerings.

I truly understand the value of a unified voice toward a common goal and feel confident that I can assist our language organizations in leading the charge in promoting proficiency in a minimum of one second language for every student across the country. Providing quality professional development for our teachers gives them the tools to spark interest and build strong abilities in their students. This produces an environment where students demonstrate quality programming through their actions and abilities while simultaneously supporting the 21st Century Learning Outcomes which have national support.

Demonstrating the true value of world languages is crucial when not everyone with decision-making power understands how those languages tie into producing culturally-sensitive, future-ready students. World languages can help students tie in social studies, music, art, and even gain a better understanding of their first language through the nature of teaching students to communicate and giving them things about which to communicate.

Having created multiple relationships with local and international Hispanics and including those individuals in my classroom and partnering with students with them, I was nominated and chosen to be the first-ever Outstanding Educator for the Inaugural Indy Latino Expo. They felt that I was a model because I was building bridges between Hoosier students and the Latino community in Indiana and beyond. With this honor came an opportunity to dine with Mayor Greg Ballard and his wife as well as meet various local television personalities. During that time, I was able to have uninterrupted conversations about the value of world language instruction at all levels and what an important role it plays in creating global citizens that universities and businesses expect.


Lucy Lee

Livingston High School
Livingston, NJ
2013 Finalist from Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

I can still remember vividly the day when I arrived at the airport in Austin, Texas, in 1974. I was looking for help so I could get to the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and was devastated because no one could understand what I said, and I couldn’t understand what others said to me in return. The indescribable excitement that I carried from Taiwan to become an exchange student in the United States was quickly crushed by the language barrier. The English grammar patterns that I had memorized didn’t seem work; my high marks on the TOEFL exam seemed even more useless. The English I had learned in school for many years sounded so different from the English I was hearing in the US. I asked myself “What was wrong with my English?” I later realized that the cultural understanding of people’s language, behavior, ideas, and ways of thinking is much more complex and challenging than the mastery of a linguistic system. The cultural shock I experienced taught me to be more alert and inquisitive and, in turn, gave me motivation to learn more about the places and peoples I have lived with. I have learned to value idioms and not to use them incorrectly. For example, on my good friend’s wedding day, I said “Emily, you kicked the bucket today!” thinking I was paying her a compliment, that she had accomplished an amazing feat and that she was very strong (strength enough to kick a bucket). I almost lost a good friend that day. I have learned the important value of culture embedded in language; linguistic competence alone is not enough for a learner to be competent in a language. It is important for a language learner to know what is appropriate to say to whom in what situations and to understand the beliefs and values represented by the various forms and usage of that language.

Not until I became a world language teacher myself did I finally realize what went wrong with my English on the day that I arrived in Austin. I was never been given any opportunities to use the target language in a meaningful real-life context. I was taught to memorize discrete vocabulary and sentence patterns but not to know culturally appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, and agree and disagree with someone. Through the initiatives such as the national standards for foreign language learning, I have made it a priority to incorporate the study of culture into my classes. I introduce cultural information in a nonjudgmental fashion so that my students can create a neutral space in the classroom where they can explore and reflect on their own culture and language as well as Chinese.

I am a prime example of why it is so important to give value to language and culture. In my professional experience, I have been witness to the changes that have moved us from the study about languages to the use of languages to communicate. The evolution of technology has led us quickly into a large paradigm shift that we are inevitably connected to a shrinking global community. Our students need to know how to interact effectively with others who do not speak English. Teachers need to establish a purpose for their students to use the language and their knowledge of other cultures by incorporating interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational modes of communication into the everyday classroom routine. With my educational background in early childhood, I advocate strongly for a long sequence of well-articulated language learning that begins in elementary school. Language learning and understanding the culture of the people is a 21st Century skill that is vital to the success of our students in the world of the future.


2012 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year

Yo Azama

Teacher of Japanese
North Salinas High School
Salinas, California

Expansion of our personal family circle is critical to a future global world as Mother Teresa once stated, "The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small." The opposite of this phenomenon creates negative consequences as evidenced daily news. I believe the only way to expand this circle of family is by learning other family members' languages and cultures. It opens a wide range of possibilities and realities that can only be attained by communicating with members who speak other languages and cultures. Furthermore, acquiring other languages and cultures enables us to connect with others at a deeper level by identifying with each other's successes and struggles as well as providing us with insightful perspectives that strengthens our overall humanity. It is language culture that binds us together as "family" and makes us understand and understood with our personal or global family.

My personal quest to expand the “circle of family” began on the small island of Okinawa, a context where three distinct cultures co-exist. I spoke Okinawan at home and engaged in the island’s traditional cultural activities in the community, while learning academics in Japanese. Additionally, on weekends I would join my American friends from the nearby American base for one of those iconic American cultural products – Dairy Queen ice cream! This rather unique environment made me realize early on that language was essential to break the difficult cultural codes of each community. The perspectives I gained through those three cultures helped me formulate a new view of the world; a world forces us to examine our own culture and ourselves, perhaps the greatest lesson learned throughout my multiple language and culture learning quests is that the acquisition of other languages and cultures adds an unparalleled dimension of sensitivity that makes us more empathetic, keen constructive listeners, and effective communicators. It enables us to analyze every issue from a multiple perspectives point of view, be less judgmental and at the same increase our awareness of our interconnectedness and our identity as world citizens.

My experience as a language teacher convinces me that today’s students are ready and more than willing to learn other languages and cultures, and prepare themselves to join a world that has no borders and offers them unlimited opportunities if they have the linguistic and cultural competency. Nothing makes me more proud than witnessing my students feel the pride of having developed a high level of Japanese and cultural competency that enables them to successfully accomplish a linguistic task, engage in a meaningful conversation with native speakers in culturally appropriate ways and  most of all when they share how this learning experience has opened their horizons and engendered the kind of confidence in them that they are indeed prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges inherent in the global society of the Twenty-First Century. Language connects us and as a result it binds us the global family that we are.

Watch a video of Yo Azama in his classroom, provided by the Annenberg Learner:


Wendy Brownell

Teacher of Spanish
Camdenton High School
Roach, Missouri
2012 Finalist from CSCTFL

“The importance of learning another language is second to none. I love learning and using Spanish in my everyday life. I see myself using this valuable resource in my years to come.”

-Casey, 9th grade Spanish Student

World language education in the United States is extremely undervalued, particularly in my home state of Missouri. I believe we as Americans are behind the rest of the world economically, politically, and socially because of our poor knowledge of and appreciation for other languages and cultures. Political and business leaders are aware of this issue; this awareness alone, however, has not translated into strengthened world language programs in our nation. In these tough times world language programs are especially vulnerable to budget cuts. Therefore, advocacy on my part and by that of all world language educators is vital.

While national security and U.S. Economic prosperity are important reasons for becoming highly proficient in another language, students add their own perspective. When I ask students why they study world language their response is increased career and travel opportunities. Many also express the desire to be able to hold fluent conversation in the target language with native speakers.

In order to meet the students’ expectations, world language educators must provide students with a personalized, meaningful learning experience that attracts and retains language learners. Students must feel successful in using the target language for communicative purposes. If the students do not believe their efforts in language class lead to the ability to use the target language outside of the classroom, they will not continue their language study to advanced levels.

The primary mission of world language educators is to teach their students to communicate in the target language in culturally appropriate ways, and the methods for doing so are endless. Our classroom is not only within the school, it is in our community, cyberspace, and the world. We do not just teach language; we teach art, music, science, math, literature and many other subject areas. Our resources reach far beyond the textbook to realia collected during travels, authentic materials provided through technology, and contact with native speakers of the languages we teach.

World language educators have the ability to not only produce proficient language speakers but also to teach students to become more tolerant and understanding of people from other cultures. Furthermore, through world languages education, we have the power to encourage young people to see themselves as world citizens and to take more ownership in issues that face our planet. Finally, world language study allows young people to experience the immense satisfaction that comes from being able to communicate and form lasting relationships with people who speak another language.


Sherri Harkins

Teacher of French
Pittsville Elementary Middle School
Pittsville, Maryland
2012 Finalist from NECTFL

To fully understand my beliefs on the value of learning a language and culture, it is important to understand the evolution of my feelings. The first several years of my teacher career were spent trying to be “the French teachers” – filling shoes left by the high school French teacher I loved. My energy was directed towards making sure students wanted to take French, not Spanish. My program had to be better than the competition’s. While I was successful in building a French program, something was missing.

When the changes of high-stakes testing affected my schedule I was forced to look at my students, not my program. My classes did not look like my own high school French class. Many of my students have never been off the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Some of my students could be a family’s first generation to go to college. I realize I am not just a French teacher. I am a teacher whose content has the ability to unite my students with the world.

Inspirational posters talk about education opening doors but they don’t talk about the nudge it takes to go through those doors. Learning a second language and its accompanying culture can be that nudge. The French language and culture are now my tools and my program exposes students to the world. Some students are still taking French because “it sounds pretty,” or because they want to visit the Eiffel Tower, or because they like me. However, I am teaching French as a passport to the world. We are talking about the world – how it has and will affect our lives. Instead of viewing other languages as competition, my students and I are collaborating with other language classes on how we can all become better world citizens.

Although my students and schools have changed, the realizations I made about learning a language and culture have not. My students constantly remind me of the value of language learning. Through their challenges and triumphs, I see how the lessons learned through a language and its culture do more than match up with content standards. The ability to communicate with others is the single greatest skill which unites the human race. My students find joy in simple greetings to total strangers in another language. They are excited to hear someone speaking a language other than English and use their best listening strategies to decipher meaning. Our ability to communicate with others is enhanced by our understanding of their culture. When my youngest students start to question why we would “say mean things” about a group of people, the ensuing discussions sparks in them a sense of solidarity with other kids just like then around the world.

There is no replacement for the life lessons learned through a language and its culture. One of my kindergarteners said it best “learning to talk another way makes me part of the world!” No longer “the French teacher”, I am a doorman nudging students towards world citizenship!


Lisa Podbilski

Teacher of Mandarin Chinese
Berkley Preparatory School
Tampa, Florida
2012 Finalist from SCOLT

When I was in 7th grade, I became friends with a girl who emigrated from Taiwan a year earlier. Her language and culture was completely different from my own. Her grandfather was Buddhist, her family spoke Mandarin, and her home contained unique artwork that I had never seen before.

From 7th to 8th grade I discovered that the unique artwork was called calligraphy scrolls and that my favorite Chinese food became “bao zi” (Chinese steamed dumplings). When I was a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to learn Mandarin. By the end of my high school career, I had studied Latin in the 7th and 8th grade; Spanish for all four years in high school; and Chinese in 11th and 12th. I was enamored with language learning. When I was searching for a university, it had to offer Chinese and Russian.

Having studied three different languages allotted to me the wonderful opportunity to learn about other cultures. One cannot separate learning a language from learning culture; they are intertwined. Culture and language cannot exist without one another. Learning another language and culture not only allows one to gain understanding and insight to that new culture, but also provides an opportunity for reflection upon one’s own culture. Reflection and introspection allow us to become better people, and, in turn, to gain empathy for other cultures.

I frequently tell my students that they can speak a language perfectly, but if they do not understand culture, their language skills will get them nowhere. Therefore, it is extremely important to integrate culture when teaching language. As a result, students can naturally make their own connections, thus comparing and reflecting up on their own culture and experiences. Teachers can incorporate simple, daily activities in the classroom to promote culture and language. Music is always a wonderful way to connect young people. Spanish teachers know this all too well. Listening to music when I was a Spanish student prompted me to purchase Latin music for my own personal enjoyment, and, in turn, improve my language skills. Last summer while in China, one of my students learned a popular Chinese pop song called Xi Shuashua. As she played the song, I instantly knew all of my classes would want to hear it. During the annual Florida Statewide Chinese competition, students from my school performed a dance to the song. Upon their return from the competition, I had the students perform their dance in front of the entire school. Needless to say, their performance was warmly received. Students and teachers alike wanted to know the name of the song!

My goal as a world language teacher is to encourage students to connect with people from other cultures, show them the tools that they can use to make that connection, and then watch as my students realize that people from around the world are not any different from us. As students grow and mature, the lessons that they learned from learning a foreign language goes beyond the classroom – it is something they take with them for a lifetime.


Susanne Kanning

Teacher of German
Inglemoor High School
Kenmore, Washington
2012 Finalist from PNCFL

Language learning is a life-long endeavor. My passion for the German language and cultures of the countries where it is spoken began when I spent a year in Lingen, Germany as an AFS student. I never stopped trying to learn as much as possible about the language, the history, and the culture. I try to make the most of every opportunity to speak German. All of my experiences in Germany and learning German have enriched my life, and it is now my desire to share this passion with my students. It is also my hope that I can inspire them to be life-long language learners.

Integral to learning a language is learning about the culture(s) of the country or countries where the language is spoken. As an exchange student my eyes were opened to the world for the first time. I became aware of the fact that there is more than one way of doing something, and the way we did something at home was not necessarily the only or best way. As language learners we become more open-minded and flexible in our thinking. In class we talk a lot about the differences in day-to-day life, as well as the similarities. I explain what I learned from my exchange experiences, as well as have the exchange students who are at the school for a semester or a year come and talk to my students. I also have my students who are returning from an exchange experience talk to my classes. All of this with the hope of helping them embrace the idea that different cultures are interesting and something to be experienced, not just strange or “wrong”.

As we develop our skills in another language, we also enhance our understanding of our native language. Whenever I am teaching a new grammar concept I find my students mulling over the concept not just in German, but also in English. I have had students tell me that they have learned more about grammar and grammatical sturctures from than in their English classes. One of my favorite stories that illustrated this occurred during my first year of teaching. I had an outstanding group of students and some of the senior boys had qualified to compete in the State Knowledge Bowl. When they returned to school after the competition they burst into my classroom to announce their success. They were so excited to tell me that they had won, because the final question asked them to identify the verb form in a sentence. They were the only team that got the answer right. The answer was, the subjunctive!

One cannot be a language learner without learning to take risks. It is impossible to know exactly how to say everything you want to, especially at the beginning of one’s studies. Plunging in and simply trying is such an important skill to learn. It is also important to learn how to laugh and learn from one’s mistakes. Sometimes we say things that are nothing close to what we intended to say, but to laugh, try again, perhaps learn what one was trying to say, and to realize that it didn’t “kill” you is something will help you throughout life.

Language learning is so many things. Not all learners many be as passionate as a language teacher, but we as language educators can inspire all students to go out into the world to explore and experience, talking and learning every step of the way.


2011 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year

Clarissa Adams Fletcher

Teacher of Spanish
Dunwoody High School
Dunwoody, Georgia
Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

“Can you really separate language from culture? Is one worth more than the other?

Communication is culture, and because culture colors everything we do or say and how we react, real communication cannot exist apart. It is impossible to learn language without culture for many colloquial expressions are based on it. Vocabulary is based on it. However, to communicate at a level beyond that of a passing tourist, you must understand the culture. It is easy today to put words in a translator, but to know local phrases might be the difference between closing a business deal or not. It most certainly will make the conversation about the local celebrations more meaningful and entertaining. In fact, it may help you find a place to eat when others are hungry. It unlocks doors to relationships and connections that exist only to those who look beyond basic communication.

The ability to enter a “foreign” land and comprehend on various levels is special. Enter without understanding the culture and your experience will not be a rich and receptive.

The value of learning a language and culture is seen in human connections forged in and outside of class. It is measured by social networking technology that maintains these connections. It is measured by the money spent on song downloads from class that are now on your iPod. Pop music has a different sound based on the culture of the country. The music of Julieta Venegas and Alejandro Sanz is pop but the sound varies from “ranchera” to “flamenco”. It is measured by the realization that birthday celebrations with family or mourning the deceased in a cemetery is customary. But, perhaps for others it means building altars in their house or having quinceañeras to celebrate. It is measured by how often you realize that you are writing in your new language, because a particular word sounds better. Ultimately the value will be seen by how we mature into globally competent citizens.

Students who choose to study languages want to communicate with peers, family and others. However, what they truly desire is to integrate into the society. This is only achieved by reaching a level of proficiency in the language open through cultural knowledge. The novice learner simply wants to speak the language. The excitement is sharing the moment when they are able to give a simple exchange not only with words but also with the appropriate gesture-a kiss on the cheek. Although it may be a simple exchange, at that moment, the seed is planted. Since the study of language can be demanding, the link between culture and language is essential. As students gain knowledge of the culture and can communicate with native speakers, their connection to the language is strengthened. Undeniably, it is the integration of language and culture that makes language learning so engaging. Learning a language teaches you what to say, but learning the culture teaches you when and how to say it.”


Amy Velasquez

Teacher of Spanish
Evanston Middle School
Evanston, WY
2011 Finalist from the Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL)

“In my classroom I use many different teaching methods to engage all of my learners. I am aware that all students learn differently so I try to incorporate as many different methods as I can in one 40-minute lesson. For example, students use TPR to review the Quinceañera vocabulary. They love to be able to move around while learning the words instead of just sitting in their seats. I also bring in a little competition as the kids are “challenging” each other by using their vocabulary words. They really seem to enjoy the competition and it encourages them to study and participate in class. The communicative activity allows for students to use the vocabulary to find information. This helps them understand that by using the target language they can get their needs met, meet new people and be able to communicate for themselves without the need of a translator while traveling around the world. The Quinceañera Project Challenge allows the kids to focus on a cultural aspect of the target language while working together to create a real-world presentation that will actually be used. They take great pride in putting together the best project and in the process they learn about all of the cultural aspects of the Mexican tradition of the Quinceañera. They use skills that will be essentials in the 21st century including research skills, global and cultural awareness skills, problem solving skills, computer skills, communication skills, presentation skills and teamwork.

All of the projects I have my students do encourage them to continue in their study of Spanish as I try to peak their interest in the culture and how it is so closely tied to the language they are learning. Once students are able to make that connection, they become very self-motivated in their learning because they see that by learning the language so many doors of opportunity are opened. They are more valuable in the job market, they can travel throughout the world, they see the value of knowing about other cultures and they are a vital part of our quickly changing 21st century. In the words of Frank Smith, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” Knowing more than one language is like opening new doors to the world and I hope to help my students see that tremendous benefit.”


Stephen Van Orden

Teacher of German
Timpview High School
Provo, Utah
2011 Finalist from the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

“Acquiring communicative skills in another language has so many benefits. It strengthens all of my first language reading, writing, and speaking skills. It provides me with access to other people and communities. It unlocks otherwise non-existent economic possibilities. It offers me access to more information that is only available in the other language. It improves my cognitive abilities as I learn to integrate what I am learning with what I already know in seamless real-time communication. It helps me become a better test taker because I have daily practice with consuming and assigning meaning to new, never-before-experienced language. In short, it makes me smarter.

In addition to all of these and many other practical benefits, learning a language should make me a better person. As I am confronted with new ideas, cultural behaviors, and world views; my rough edges should be knocked off and smoothed one-by-one like a stone rolling in a swift-flowing steam. As a result, I should become a better member of my human communities because learning language teaches me how to positively interact wit others.

Our world needs tolerance and not just respect for diversity but true valuing of diversity. Biologists lament the extinction of species through the destruction of the rain forests because studying those extinct species might have led to the cure for cancer or solved some other large human problem. In the same vein, language teachers know that studying other cultures and languages leads to ideas and understandings that can and will solve a variety of human social problems. A species of plant or animal that goes extinct diminishes possibilities of future scientific discoveries. Similarly, when people do not learn languages beyond their native language, they diminish their possibilities for future discovery. Just like the scientist has faith in progress through the scientific method, I believe that as we study other cultures and languages, we will learn to think in new ways that will bring the bright flashes of epiphany that recast our human problems in the light of opportunity.

For me, learning another language is the intense act of expanding and refining my humanity. It is the compact core at the heart of all learning. It is feeling, experiencing, and thinking. Most of all, it’s fun, and it’s for everybody.”


Maryann Woods-Murphy

Teacher of Spanish
Northern Highlands Regional High School
Allendale, NJ
2011 Finalist from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

“Language and culture walk hand and hand into my classroom. I am always creating learning scenarios which help students imagine that they are living and working in the target language country. They have to solve a real problem together to understand the products, practices and perspectives of the culture they are studying. We have mock trade summits, medical conferences, business meetings and health and fitness discussions which all use the target language to work out a current issue or situation.

In my classroom, the first thing one might notice is that all communication is done in the target language. I speak at a natural pace and students quickly get used to that. The students also speak to each other and share their thoughts and ideas when I’m looking and when I’m not.

When students are working, I go from group to group to engage in conversation, to support and to clarify. I take the students seriously as thinkers, researchers and presenters. They absolutely know that this is true and they respond accordingly. I have seen that this can happen everywhere. I’ve taught in the Bronx, in the suburbs, in rich schools and poor ones from kindergarten to college. In each setting, I’ve seen how students will shine through when high expectations and respect are coupled.

The role of the imagination is another thing to note in my room. I know that I am an out-of-the-box thinker, but when I am very clear about including activities for all styles of learner, I get full participation. As a teacher, I believe it’s vital to remember that not everyone learns the way we do and that what is challenging or easy for us may be different for of our students. Together, we stretch our comfort zones when our classrooms are emotionally competent and filled with opportunities to show what students know and are able to do.

Another important part of the culture of my classroom is the fact that the space belongs to all of us. Students post their documents - straight or crooked - and will self-police to keep on target to speak Spanish. During project work, every table has a student “linguistic police officer” whose job it is to give out small pieces of paper which represent “fines” or “multas” whenever English is spoken. They do this with humor, which is another crucial part of how I run my class. If we can’t laugh or feel comfortable, we won’t learn as well as we might.

Our students will learn language and culture when we create safe and exciting rooms where they are truly invited to participate in their imperfect, awkward, but magnificent way.”


Martha Pero

Teacher of Spanish
Hudson City Schools
Hudson, Ohio
2011 Finalist from the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)

“Language learning is no longer just being successful at conjugating verbs, declining articles and making adjectives agree. It is a communicative skill vital to our country. More than ever our students are being required to become globally competent citizens.

Yes, they need to know grammar, but that is only one part of their language experience. Culture is the heart of every language. It is where the true understanding of language exists. You can offend a client in an instant if you do not know the proper register that is culturally accepted. You can offend your host mother, as I did years ago, by saying good-bye and leaving for the day while she was waving at me. Unfortunately for me, waving in Guatemala with the hand going up and down means “come here”. If you play a joke on someone in Spain on April 1st instead of December 28th, he or she will not understand and may take offense. There are so many facets involved in communicating beyond grammar. That is why it is vital that culture and language usage be intertwined seamlessly in teaching communication in a second language.

My goal is not only to help my students become competitive in today’s job market, but also to open their eyes to the world in which they are going to manage and be responsible for in the future. They need to understand and be empathetic to peoples of the world. They need to improve their critical thinking skills to solve problems. They need to acknowledge and accept that societies, which use languages to express their cultural norms and ideals, are not right or wrong; they are just different.

They can accomplish this by learning a language in the context of culture. One of the biggest compliments I had was from a student I overheard speaking to a native speaker. The speaker has asked him how much culture he studied in class because it was obvious in their conversation that he had learned many things. He responded by saying, “We don’t learn about culture, we just learn Spanish”. He had not even realized that the culture was woven into his Spanish lessons. This is what teaching a language is all about.”

2010 Teacher of the Year Award Winner

Lisa Lilley

Teacher of Spanish
Central High School
Springfield, Missouri
Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)

“Economic well-being and safety are vital reasons for learning another language and have garnered  considerable attention as evidenced by the greatest governmental promotion of  language study since the Sputnik era.  But these challenges also give us the opportunity to increase cross-cultural awareness or “global literacy” as put forward by Dr. Heidi Byrnes of Georgetown University at the 2008 ACTFL Assembly of Delegates.  Global literacy values the individual growth that comes through acquiring a language and connecting with other cultures. I used to stress to students how learning a second language could help them to get a job, but I now put equal if not more emphasis on how languages can improve their quality of life far beyond their own economic security.

I feel privileged to guide young people to develop an appreciation of the “Other” and to consider ideas they weren’t even aware of before , all of which build self-confidence. Travel with students to another country is the best performance assessment that can be devised. What better way exists to gauge increased global literacy than a comparison of how a young person viewed the world before a journey and how that a view has been  altered upon returning home? Learning language through culture contributes to strengthened personal identity but, paradoxically, can lead to diminished importance placed upon one’s self. Carefully constructed units that intertwine culture and language typically cause language learners to expand their awareness of social and economic injustices in far-away lands. As the result of being able to communicate with the inhabitants of those countries, they may be in a position to do some actual good in the world. The enhancement of the quality of life for all concerned is priceless.

Above all, I believe that language study offers our students an experience they can’t get elsewhere . In a world languages classroom, learners are fully engaged in meaningful, personalized activities that promote proficiency in the target language and its culture. They have the opportunity to delve into individual interests such as art, music, cooking, design, architecture, linquistics, history, and current political, social and environmental issues. Businesses heavily recruit employees with these broader cultural sensitivities, as they are more flexible in a changing work force, and I would submit, are more interesting people.

But we will fail in our efforts to deliver the benefits of global literacy to upcoming generations if we are unable to field a corps of qualified educators. The good news is that interest has never been higher in learning another language and potential recruits are in front of us each day in our classrooms. Our positive example helps to portray world languages teaching as a dynamic career that attracts the best and the brightest of professionals. By encouraging just one of our students each year to consider joining our ranks, we could reduce the shortage of skilled professionals and in turn, offer up a vibrant  vocation that is full of rewards. Indeed, what an excellent reward it is to promote global proficiency by opening the doors of the world to others.”

Renee Fritzen

Teacher of Spanish
Campbell County High School
Gillette, WY
2010 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL)

“Building life-long learners who value foreign language learning is imperative in my classroom.  I see the value of foreign language learning in three main areas: career, community, and cultural literacy.  Careers are the ‘Product’ (as in one of the three P’s) or outcome of what foreign language learning should be and provide a door for job opportunities.  Community is ‘Practice(s)’ that helps define, as language learners, who they are and their place in this ‘flat world’. Cultural literacy helps students to see the value of what they are learning and gives them ‘Perspective’ in the world in which they live.

Foreign language learning is vital for an increasing number of careers.  There are advantages in the job market for those people who travel and are able to solve problems, or combine work and pleasure because they are able to communicate effectively.

Student need to be able to make the connections with what they are learning as valuable in the world.  That is why I like to provide communicative activities where students are role playing “real world” situations. Some days my classroom may transform into a city complete with stores where students practice asking for directions. The next unit might be a restaurant or a museum.  By allowing students to make connections through real world scenarios, they are making multiple pathways to future career possibilities and opportunities. Connecting careers to the benefits of language learning makes a tangible product.

One way for students to be part of their community and experience cultural appreciation is by providing cultural activities through the arts. Through the arts, student gain an appreciation for the language of study and become “whole learners”.

Because culture inherently appeals to students through stories, art, poetry, drama, and music, students’ lives are enriched because it allows students to connect with what is in the real world.  By providing real-world connections, students experience cultural input and provide output through their own participation, thus providing an ideal environment for whole learning.

Cultural literacy enables students to converse fluently and therefore become familiar with literature, history, a life interwoven with art, language such as slang expressions, and the experiences that have shaped a community. Students will see that foreign language study is an effective tool to overcome the restrictions of  monolingualism and limited cultural perspective.  Experiencing another culture enables students to find an understanding of their own.”


Nella Spurlin

Teacher of German
Temple High School
Temple, Texas
2010 Finalist from Southwest Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (SWCOLT)

“My earliest awareness of a foreign language came around the time I learned to spell. My grandparents switched into German for those conversations that “little ears” weren’t meant to hear.  Of course, that piqued my curiosity, but I knew I’d never understand-until a neighbor told me she was taking German in high school. How amazing, that you could actually learn another language! My decision to learn German was made.  Our German teacher made class fun, fascinating, and challenging.  In addition, she arranged a study trip, and 12 of us spent a month in southern Germany, we lived with host families, attended classes, and took day trips. It was truly a life-altering experience.  That summer I decided to become a German teacher—an exciting journey in its own right.

To me, language teaching  is not a job—it is truly a Berufung, a calling, offering opportunities and challenges.  Language teachers are on a mission to bring the world to their students and to help them comprehend the variety of cultures and worldviews they may encounter.

Learning a new language opens a door to a new lifestyle.  Because of my overseas experience, I wanted my students to also have this opportunity.  Since 1995, we have had an ongoing exchange program with a partner school in the Rhineland.  Through this program, about 160 Germans have visited our school and about 140 of our students have spent a month in Germany.  While our students are overseas, they grow in so many ways; their language abilities surge, they become responsible for themselves, they learn to appreciate a new culture, and they become more tolerant of the ideas of others. International issues now have a more personal meaning, since they affect friends. Personal experiences form a context for history, art, and politics. Differences in lifestyle make sense.  Most of these students continue their language studies; a sizable portion have earned either majors or minors in German and have traveled back to see their host families or to study.  During the Germans’ visit, the impact on the rest of the student body is enormous—suddenly there is a face linked to the concept of “German” (often perceived as a downright good-looking face, at that!); a “foreign “ language becomes the language that Kai and Katrin speak.  To me, this is our true purpose as language teachers—to make the world a little smaller, a little more personal, a little more real.

So many other advantages of language learning come into consideration, as well: better understanding of the native language, academic and career opportunities, connections to other subjects such as history and literature, and the chance for a student to learn more about his own cultural heritage.  All of these factors are important; but learning to become a citizen of the world seems the most far-reaching, particularly as technology increases international contacts.  For language teachers, Christa MacAuliffe’s words ring true:  ‘I touch the future; I teach’.”


Vickie A. Mike

Teacher of Spanish
Horseheads School District
Horseheads, New York
2010 Finalist from Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

“Learning language and culture has personal, cultural, and educational value.  Learning language and culture opens minds and opens hearts.  Learning another language is transformational. The study of another language transforms the personal and the professional self. It changes our way about thinking about the world as well as the way we think about ourselves.  The process of learning another language teaches us as much about our own language and culture as it does about another language and culture.

The underlying value in learning a second language and culture is preparing world citizens to be contributing members of a global society. Without the study of another language and culture we deny ourselves the necessary skills for living, working, and participating in our diverse global society. Learning another language and culture enables us to better understand ourselves and own language and culture. Language learning also provides us with a more global perspective of the world.

My basic belief is that there is value in learning and studying all disciplines. No one discipline is more or less valuable that another. Furthermore, if in schooling we do not offer opportunities to study all discipline areas, from the beginning, we establish yet another inequity, yet another gap, in the education of our children.

When I began teaching Spanish, and even when I was a student, the study of a foreign language was not a requirement for all students. The study of another language was an elective that was not offered until junior high school, and only then, did some students elect to study another language. Foreign language study was considered ‘fluff’and only an elite few opted to study another language. Now, thirty years later, yes, in my state, the study of a language other than English is a requirement for all students. However, the requirement does not begin until middle school, with a one to three year minimum requirement. Can you imagine our children beginning school and not studying mathematics, science, or social studies, for the first time, until grade seven or eight?  Or having to study mathematics, science, or social studies, for only one or two or three years out of their entire twelve years?  Of course not!  There has never been any doubt about if and when to begin and continue instruction in the mathematics, sciences, and social studies. Including the study of another language and culture as part of the core curriculum contributes to the intellectual development of our students.

Equality in education includes all disciplines. Therein is the true value of learning another language and culture. Excluding the opportunity to learn another language devalues education and limits the access to global opportunities and careers our students will have in the future. Learning must include all disciplines: foreign language, history, art, music, technology, mathematics, and science.  An inclusive and comprehensive  curriculum includes opportunities in all areas, from the beginning. Anything less is a reflection of inequality in education.”


Linda Zins-Adams

Teacher of German
Highland High School
Fort Thomas, Kentucky
2010 Finalist from Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

“The promotion of language learning is one way our nation can protect itself.  During times of war, military protection is vital; however, I feel the learning  languages protects us from isolationism and ignorance.

We have touted ourselves as a dominant nation, but how do we dominate in areas like business and academia world?  Many of our competitors are multilingual and harvest the benefits.  The presumption that many will learn English, speak English and adhere to our American ways, is simply arrogant, and our failure to recognize this is harming our nation.

Too often, we, as Americans, do not see the need to do something unless it will directly affect us.  Our nation is not geographically located in a area that forces us to go beyond our comfort zones.  Fortunately, technology allows me to shatter my students’ comfort zones and filter in very authentic sources.  After 16 years of teaching , I have witnessed an explosion of technological advancements all of which have helped me bring language learning to life. My students are exposed to the global society.

Years ago, I had a student return from a study-trip to Germany, and it amazed her that the Germans actually said the things that we had learned in class!  She was extremely fortunate to have won this trip for her performance on the National German Exam. Today, many students can easily make this type of connection to language learning without traveling abroad.  My students can speak face to face with others in different countries through the computer. We can access up-to-date news reports in a variety of forms.  It is my responsibility to utilize all that is available to me in order to enhance my students’ exposure to language and culture.

Currently, I have a partnership with a school in Germany. Not all of my students can go and study in Germany, so this partnership is a way for me to connect our lessons to the world beyond our classroom in the basement. My students can now blog, use Skype, text, e-mail, and send snapshots from their world on a daily basis. The Germans are here for less than a month, but our connection to one another will hopefully build many bridges that will nurture friendships for years to come.

Students who learn a language are more receptive to both sides of historical events and less likely to repeat the mistakes from the past. I consider my role as a world language teacher is to contribute to the overall well-being of our nation. Without language teachers, children would lack the vision to see beyond our borders.  We share this world and we must co-exist, as well as, compete on an even playing field.  My goal as a world language teacher is to empower students with the ability to connect with people from other cultures.  America needs to realize that we are interconnected to other societies and cannot rely solely on ourselves."


2009 Teacher of the Year Award Winner

Toni Theisen

Teacher of French
Loveland High School
Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

I know for sure that both language and culture are intricately woven into a majestic tapestry, a tapestry of the world, hoping to be admired, pleading to be studied and pushing to be understood. I truly believe that we live in a multicultural and multilingual world, where cultural and linguistic boundaries in order to create the possibilities of working, creating, problem solving and collaborating with each other.

Furthermore, I realize that our 21st century students, the “digital natives,” are being rewired to seek out understanding of the world in many new ways. They already share their creations such as podcasts and movies with international “friends” on social networking sites all over the world. I sense that they are here to teach us, the “digital immigrants,” that every view of the world and every cultural perspective add to the synergetic growth of the planet…. 

Effective communication and strong interpersonal skills in more than one language will be important assets in order for them to collaborate in a variety of globally integrated team structures that will constantly change. Horizontal thinking, or the ability to blend different perspectives and disciplines together to create a new thing will take on a life of its own for them.

But in believing in these values of language and culture learning, I have the responsibility to make sure that students can both experience them and manifest them. Cultivating respect and interpersonal skills are essential goals in a world where diversity of perspectives is a fact of life. I must build a community of learners based on trust and integrity. I must be clear that the classroom is a real place to learn, create, explore and be honored, as well as being shared space for all. The classroom must be a microcosm of the multilingual and multicultural world of which I speak and aligned to the values of language and culture learning to which I adhere. I must work to understand their communication styles and I must provide experiences that will encourage and engage them in weaving a party of the tapestry. And most of all, I must model what I believe.

Sandy Garcia

Teacher of Japanese
Forest Grove High School
2009 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Conference for Languages (PNCFL)

Looking back at my study abroad experience in Japan, I believe there is more value to learning a foreign language other than just identifying objectives. For me, that value has been the ability to perceive the world through a new set of eyes. Although this answer may at first seem simple, there are many facets to it. It might be easier to understand if we look at snowmen.

Have you ever seen a Japanese snowman? It has only two circles, not three like the typical America snowman.

In Japanese, a snowman is not a snowman, but rather a snow daruma or yukidaruma, a relative to that “red-eye thing” I saw in the shop. The use of two circles is in honor of the Indian sage, Daruma, the father of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It is reported that he preyed so long, seven years, that he lost the use of his legs. Because he showed such devotion and perseverance, the Japanese made their snowman legless as a constant reminder of him.

So, how does the snowman relate to the value of knowing a foreign language and culture? First, it was the language, or lack of knowing the language, that brought around the curiosity of the name. Without knowing the language, I would have guessed that the snowman was a yuki otoko (man); it is easier to build a two-circle one rather than a three-circle one. Secondly, I went beyond just language learning. I learned of Daruma’s perseverance and started to understand the Japanese concept of time in relationship to achievement. Their, this new information has created a symbol through which many endeavor requires one to study or work at it for at least 10 yeas.

What began as a simple Japanese word embedded in culture started me on a journey of learning how the Japanese look at life. It also changed my way of looking at the world. I know I have a richer and more diverse life due to the language and the culture I’ve experienced. It is my privilege to help students have a similar eye-opening experience when they meet a “yukidaruma” or “that one-eyed red thing in the corner of that shop.”


Samantha Godden-Chmielowicz

Teacher of French
Schurz High School
2009 Finalist from Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Both schools where I have worked serve disadvantaged students. Some have lived their whole lives in Chicago without ever going downtown. Some have grown up too soon, yet have the fortitude to survive. They amaze me. I am able, through French, to show them that there is more to the world than their block, and the results are heartfelt and wonderful. Francophone cultures provide me with many ways to tap my students’ interests. I have received grants to bring musicians and authors to our school. We have seen musical performances, plays and movies. We have a chef visit our class. (One girl described her fanciest restaurant: “Long John Silver.”) My current school participates in a program at the Alliance Française. I have had 3 students receive 10-day scholarship trips to France, two of whom continue to study French in college. A program through the American Association of Teachers of French allowed my principle to visit France last fall with other US principals.

One memorable student is Ernest. Ernest was walking attitude in high school, not in a fighting way, but rather self-serving. This was a result of negative home, family and life experiences. By senior year he had it together and amazed us all by realizing how his actions impacted himself and others. I kept in touch after graduation and received a postcard from his study abroad in Paris, as he had continued to study French. Ernest from West Englewood in Paris! Wow! I saw him in “Starbucks” last year and reconnected. He can still speak some French and is considering a year in Japan to teach English! How else can I explain that leap of faith unless I start with his exposure to Francophone cultures in my high school class? That is to know I have done well. This is my proof of the value of learning language and culture.


Carmen Leigh Scoggins

Teacher of Spanish
Watauga High School/Spanish Teacher
2009 Finalist from the Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

I was a senior in high school when I first went to Mexico. Maybe it was the smell of Mexico City; the sight of the Pirámide del Sol; or the sound of the mariachi band; but my life forever changed.

As a non-native speaker of Spanish, I understand the frustrations and needs of my students. By creating a comfortable environment, students are more inclined to interact with a variety of activities that include frequent listening practice for native speakers, one-on-one questions, interviews, and visuals while focusing on what they know and are able to do to be successful.

I challenge students to explore how Spanish can be useful in their own lives and I provide opportunities for them to see Spanish as an asset rather than just a graduation requirement. Since there is little diversity in my district, I encourage students to explore other cultures, to ponder differences, and to dispel stereotypes. My students hear different accents, observe young people in Spanish-speaking countries, and experience literature that exemplify other cultures. This exposure transports them beyond the boundaries of their community and helps them become more open to different experiences, though processes, and the human condition. When students make comparisons, compassion, empathy, and acceptance can occur.

I want those around me to feel my passion for language and compassion for others. I want my students to learn to think for themselves. Most of all, I want them to have an epiphany as I did at eighteen- to learn there is so much to experience and that languages are the key to embracing differences and making connections to communities and the global world in which we live.


Emily Z. Wagner

Teacher of French
Germantown Academy
2009 Finalist from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

Language learning does more for one’s spirit than permit us to become linguistically proficient. In the language classroom, students are constantly challenged to see the connections as well as the differences, in cultural values and customs, and to honor them. Language is not mere words; it brings with it a set of habits, beliefs, history, literature, ways of thinking and processing world events—all necessary for seeing the world though the mind’s eye of another culture. Through the acquisition of another language and the study of the ways other peoples live and work, we gain an appreciation of the differences among nations and begin the dialogue to peace among the peoples of the world. Learning a language will help remove obstacles to understand and lead to peace.

I often wonder, though: How successful are we, as language educators, at providing students with the proper equipment to open these doors to peace in our wonderful pluralistic society as well as to harmony in today’s world? Do we spend too much time making sure the past participle agrees with the preceding direct object and not enough time providing opportunities for our students to connect and communicate with the community of the target language? Does our study of the literature of the target culture speak to the human condition? How can we help those students who do not or cannot follow the language sequence to a level of proficiency benefit from their few years in the language classroom?

This “tool” we call language is a passkey; it can open portals into the traditions of another people. It engages the mind as it unlocks the bolts to let the cylinders of tolerance fall into place. Among the greatest benefits of learning a second language, I believe, is the ability to see the world through the values and imaginations of others, and thus develop a sense of “cultural literacy” unparalleled in any other discipline.


2008 Teacher of the Year Award Winner

Janet Glass

Teacher of Spanish and ESL
Dwight-Englewood School
Englewood, NJ

“There’s a Spanish proverb, ‘El hombre bilingüe vale por dos,’ or ‘The bilingual person is worth two.’  To me, this neatly states the value of knowing another language and culture.  Although my Spanish program is a FLES [Foreign Language in the Elementary School] program and not a bilingual program, my students seem to have this wonderful double vision already.  To be able to move comfortably in two worlds benefits both the individual and society.  I believe profoundly deeper multiculturalism results from the study of the culture and language.  There is added value in capitalizing on this when students are young and attitudes are being shaped. The individual values of learning language and culture include wider communication, deeper multiculturalism, cognitive flexibility, enhanced self-esteem and, we might add, the enjoyment of world literature and employment benefits.  How might these benefit society?  Of course there is a link between national security and being multilingual.  Learning language and culture, extensively and early, is a value whose time in these United States is past due.”


Jamin Lynch

Teacher of German and English
Independence High School
San Jose, CA
2008 Finalist Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

“The Austrian Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once stated, ‘Die Grenzen der Sprache sind die Grenzen der Welt’ equating to, ‘The boundaries of one’s language are the boundaries of one’s world.’  To me, this means communicating in more than one language is a valuable key which opens doors to new worlds.  Without the key of language, a student’s understanding of countries, cultures, and communities remains relatively superficial, because the student remains a relative outsider.  But, language learning transforms the student into an active participant.  As a teacher of language, I have a terrific opportunity and a sincere responsibility to help students cross boundaries into new worlds, for the value of language learning and culture cannot be understated.  As we continue into the 21st century, we need to create a world community which respects, appreciates, and understands all of our valuable cultures.”


Juan Carlos Morales

Teacher of German and ESL
Miami Palmetto Senior High School
Miami, FL
2008 Finalist from Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

“It is only in recent times that we, as Americans, have been forced to take a step back to appreciate how we value each other and how we value ourselves.  These times have made us realize that there is still much we do not understand about other peoples, other cultures, and other customs.  As a World Languages teacher, I am faced with these two tasks daily: how do I teach my students to value themselves and each other, and how do I teach them to value others whose cultures and values are different from theirs?  My task it to make the foreign into something familiar, to take the far away and try to shape it into something that feels like one’s own.  In doing so, I am creating a third space, one that brings together the ‘I’ and the ‘other’ harmoniously.”


Betty Lotterman

Teacher of Spanish and German
Mounds View High School
St. Paul, MN
2008 Finalist from Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

“Neither we nor our students know which languages they may need to know during their lifetime; but if they have learned a language in school, it will be easier for them to learn whichever language they need to know.  I tell my students they should learn another language because they never know when they will need it.  I also hope they will come to share my fascination for human language.  Not only is learning another language fascinating, it is also the only way people from different cultures can hope to understand each other.  As such, it truly is our only hope for a more peaceful world.”


Kathryn L. Beppler

Teacher of French
Evanston High School
Evanston, WY
2008 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL)

“The value of learning a language and culture is that it has become a life skill.  We language teachers are the key to our students’ survival, and I mean this literally.  When cultures clash, individuals must have the skills to communicate their perspectives and to know when to step back from a disagreement.  These skills are taught in today’s standards-based classrooms where students are no longer simply taught the rules of grammar and lists of vocabulary to memorize.  They learn to negotiate meaning and to be members of a group with different needs and boundaries.  Only by serious foreign language education, will our students be able to develop these skills so vital to interacting in the world community.”


2007 Teacher of the Year Award Winner

Christine Lanphere

Teacher of French
Natomas High School
Sacramento, California
Southwest Conference on Language Teaching (SWCOLT)

“Learning more than one language can create more tolerant members of our own community.  I believe that a root cause of intolerance is lack of exposure to diversity and difference.  By learning another language, we are given the opportunity to explore different ways of communicating and thinking which will ultimately stretch our own view of the world.  In order to build tolerance and encourage everyone to value diversity, we must change inward-looking attitudes by increasing access to a wide variety of language learning opportunities in our schools.  In so doing, our young people will be better equipped to communicate our cultural perspectives and create communities in the wider global community.  They will thus benefit fully the gift of multi-lingual communication.”

Christine Lanphere, French, Natomas HS, Sacramento, CA

Christie Moraga

Teacher of French and Spanish
West Woods Upper Elementary
Farmington, Connecticut
2007 Finalist from the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

2005: The Year of Languages has given me more conviction, ammunition and inspiration to talk about the many facets of language and cultural acquisition.  With whom do I discuss that one is never too young or too old to study a language, or toss around new ways to make languages come alive in the classroom?  I talk to and enlist my family, my world language colleagues, my school community, and people in the larger community, both in person and on-line.  I have always tried to spread the joy for learning languages to my students, but now I feel that the cause has become bigger and more important.  It’s time to convince the public at large about the value of language learning and culture.

 Christi Moraga, French & Spanish, West Woods Upper Elementary, Farmington, CT

Tracy Veler Knick

Teacher of French
Rockledge High School
Rockledge, Florida
2007 Finalist from the Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

“The learning of a second language has proven to have a positive impact on intellectual growth.  Students of a foreign language learn about their own language and score statistically higher on standardized tests...The high-stakes testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act can be directly and positively impacted with an increase in the learning of languages, as the skills gained in the study of language transfer.  I have had many students who have improved their Florida Comprehensive Achievement (FCAT) scores and attributed their success to the study of French.  I currently have a senior student who told me that she wishes that she had started her French studies earlier so that she wouldn’t have had to retake the FCAT during her senior year.  She will be the first in her family to graduate high school with a traditional diploma and she will start college in the fall...If we don’t support the inclusion of the study of language and culture in the core for all students, then we will all be left behind.”

Tracy Veler Knick, French, Rockledge HS, Rockledge, FL

Gisela (Nina) K. Holmquist

Teacher of Spanish
Nicolet High School
Glendale, Wisconsin
2007 Finalist from Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)

“The world in which our students will live as adults will be totally different from the one we live in today.  I believe international learning is a gift we can give them to help them succeed and be happy as individuals in this new and ever-developing world.  The larger component, however, is the contribution they will ultimately make to the greater good which includes building bridges and developing friendships and political alliances, as well as increasing stability, security and trade with other countries.”

Nina Holmquist, Spanish, Nicolet HS, Glendale, WI

Terri Carnes

Teacher of Spanish
Crescent Valley High School
Corvallis, Oregon
2007 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL)

“Learning language while I was living in the culture has had a deep impact on my life.  It has led me to the wonderful career of teaching and it has created so many opportunities for me during my lifetime.  It has afforded me numerous travel opportunities; it has allowed me to create friendships around the world; it has opened my eyes to the global issues that plague our society; it has allowed me to teach numerous students in my French and Spanish classes in three different states; and it has afforded me the knowledge to be able to be successful in whatever culture in which I lived.”

Terri Carnes, Spanish, Crescent Valley HS, Corvallis, OR

2006 ACTFL Teacher of the Year Winner

Ken Stewart

Teacher of Spanish
Chapel Hill High School
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT)

“I subscribe to the ancient philosophy that Plutarch stated in his teachings:  ‘The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.’  As a world language teacher I cannot imagine a better model to follow.  Language teachers are charged with fostering an intercultural understanding as well as igniting the intellectual flames of adolescents—one student at a time.  As an 18-year teaching veteran, I seek to fulfill this challenge by cultivating a positive rapport with students and fomenting an atmosphere in my classes in which both student and teacher strive to be exemplary.  Demands for accountability, increased scrutiny from the outside, and the political climate of public education require that educators be at the forefront of our profession in terms of pedagogy, technology, and meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse population.  To meet those demands, we must transform America beginning with its schools and universities and improve upon the fact that only 9% of Americans speak a second language.  Moreover, we must diversify in our study of languages; only 8% of students in grades 7-12 are taking a language other than Spanish, French, or German.”

Ken Stewart (Hall of Fame)

Gisela  (Nina) K. Holmquist

Teacher of Spanish
Nicolet High School
Glendale, Wisconsin
2006 Finalist from Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

“At no time ever before has it been as important as today to be proficient in foreign languages and cultures.  Our world is becoming smaller and smaller, and if we, as a country and individuals want to have a positive impact on the world, we must expand the language skills and cultural awareness of every American.  It has been the case too often that our businessmen, tourists, and ambassadors went abroad full of goodwill, but without any understanding of the culture and language of the places they visited, and thus not reaping the success they had expected.  This cannot be the case any longer.  If we want to promote democracy, establish business relations, teach Aids prevention, etc., our mission will only be credible if we communicate with peoples in their language and are sensitive to what makes them tick.  Today competition is fierce, and I am not necessarily speaking of the business world.  Today we must educate youth that speak Pashtun to rebuild Afganistan, Russian to re-establish confidence in us, or Creole to promote understanding in Haiti, just to name a few.

 Gisela  (Nina) K. Holmquist

Desiann (Desa) Dawson

Teacher of Spanish
Del City High School
Del City, Oklahoma
2006 Finalist from Southwest Conference on Language Learning (SWCOLT)

“It is not enough to teach “about” another culture. To truly appreciate another way of life one must become proficient in the language of its people. Anyone who has lived among people of another culture and learned to speak the language can tell you the difference between “observing” and “experiencing” another lifestyle. This does not mean forsaking one’s own cultural ways, but it does allow us to see them in a different light and to develop deeper insights into our own way of doing things as well as that of others.  We cannot be satisfied with exposure to language and culture.  It takes prolonged study to develop the level of proficiency needed to communicate with ease and to participate in another society, or our own, in a culturally appropriate way.  We must continue to work toward this goal.

In the pluralistic society of the United States, as well as in the global society into which we have been thrust, we must prepare ourselves to meet the challenge of an ever-changing world.  We can choose to ignore people who differ from us, and risk being misunderstood by them, or embrace language and cultural study and welcome a world full of possibilities to explore.  I will continue to devote my career to that end.”

Desiann (Desa) Dawson

Stephanie K. Appel

Teacher of French
Fair Lawn Schools
Fair Lawn, New Jersey
2006 Finalist, Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)

“I am a prime example of why it is so important to give value to language and culture.  Teachers need to establish a purpose for their students to use the language and their knowledge of other cultures.  In less than a decade we have been faced with the weakening of our national security due to a lack of proficient speakers of other languages critical in the world today.  Corporate Americais leaving town with our jobs making us more and more reliant on other countries for our basic goods.  Without providing a concrete need for a second language our students will remain monolingual or novice speakers at best.  Although Americans are slow starters in the race to compete globally on an even playing field, I believe that we are making greater strides to prepare our current and future language teachers.  Teachers’ methods and new vision are gradually driving their students from simply understanding a language’s structure to using it with a purpose.  Much like learning to walk, students and teachers began rolling with translation, started crawling with the audio-lingual method, and have just begun walking with the aide of the five C’s and the modes of communication.”

Stephanie K. Appel

Scott Underbrink

Teacher of Russian and French
Natrona High School
Casper, Wyoming
2006 Finalist from Pacific Northwest Council for Languages (PNCFL)

“Teaching languages we are able to stimulate the minds of our students from all angles.  Multiple intelligences, mastery learning, TPR, all of the movements of education pass by us and we take from them, adapt what they have to our own kids and grow professionally.  I am not the same teacher I was 28 years ago, and that is not at all a bad thing.  With each lesson I get a chance to reevaluate, consider what went well and needs to be kept and what could go better.  Part of the advantage in having years in the profession is that I have had so many chances at everything I teach, and I hope I haven’t and won’t waste a single one of these opportunities....This year I chaired a cohort group of language teachers studying best practices of the profession.  One of our monolingual vice-principals participated in the group.  After viewing videos and sharing strategies we turned to him.  His reaction was an impressed, ‘I didn’t know that you language teachers had so much to teach!’  How proud I am to be part of such a talented corps of educators.  As language teachers we work harder and more passionately.  Is it any wonder that so many of our kids grow to love what we teach them?”

Scott Underbrink