Janet Rowe

Hortonville High School
Hortonville, WI
2019 Finalist from CSCTFL

Seventeen years ago, I proposed to my district school board a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program for all our students because I believe that all students can and should learn another language and understand other cultures. According to Eurostat Statistics it has been mandatory for several decades for most European children to learn at least one foreign language and the Barcelona European Council recommended in 2002 that a minimum of two foreign languages should be taught to all pupils from a very early age. All students should have this opportunity, unfortunately, world language in the United States is generally an elective course primarily available only to older students. This must change.

The benefits of language learning go far beyond the well-known cognitive, academic and economic benefits. Learning another language requires students to take risks, accept mistakes, reexamine their own cultural viewpoint and begin to see the world from diverse perspectives. Through culturally rich language study my students are exposed to art, music, history, geography, and literature that they might otherwise never experience and certainly could not appreciate in the same way as they can under the guidance of a skillful language teacher who draws the students’ attention to the underlying cultural practices and beliefs held within these elements.

The study of language and culture builds my students’ awareness and sensitivity to the diversity of cultural perspectives and linguistic contexts and thereby fosters greater understanding and empathy when they interact with people of a different background than their own. As I ask my students to analyze their own cultural perspectives and compare them to that of another culture, I am preparing them to see the world from the eyes of another and to be accepting of “different”. This empathy and acceptance is sorely needed in our country today.

The collaborative nature of the world language classroom prepares my students to work successfully with people of differing viewpoints and backgrounds. The focus I place on the three modes of communication goes well beyond developing their linguistic proficiency. My students learn how to listen, take turns and ask for clarification when they do not understand. Communicating in a second language requires patience, analysis and persistence when the going gets tough. My students dedicate themselves to a goal that takes years to achieve and learn to carry-on when challenges arise, or miscommunication occurs. This perseverance and ability to set and achieve long term goals will be vital in seeking solutions to the complex issues facing our global society.

Learning environments that engage students in the target language for real communication prepare them well for their future.

All students in my district begin to learn another language and develop cultural competence in elementary school. At a time of such tremendous global interaction, this should not be an exception, this should be the norm. The benefits to them as individuals as well as to our society are immeasurable.