2009 Hall of Fame Nominee

Emily Z. Wagner

Germantown Academy
Fort Washington, PA
2009 Finalist from 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.