Jennifer Melgar

Westwood High School
Austin, TX
2019 Finalist from SWCOLT

In a recent TED Talk by Lera Boroditsky she expresses how the language we speak shapes the way we think. One example used was about a broken vase. Some languages, such as English, one would say, “I broke the vase”, but in another language, such as Spanish, one would say, “The vase broke.” The same activity, with differing ideas of what happened - one remembers who to blame and one remembers an accident. The students in our classes have the ability to cognitively think differently, and we as language teachers must mold that ability by exposing them to at least one of the 7000 different perspectives / languages out there. Having taught both Spanish and German, and also learned Latin, I know this is no small task, but a challenge I happily accept. In helping students think differently, we are also creating global citizens, who will be our diplomats through the connections they make. In language classes it is our duty as language teachers to ensure our students are exposed to the language and culture in such a way, that they are able to connect with other humans.

I am a firm believer in the students having multiple opportunities to individually process the learned material, collaborate with one another, and to practice with one another before being assessed for a grade, although they are being assessed throughout the entire process. I also believe and recognize the need for all modes of communication being used in the classroom. I strive to make sure all of my lessons include all three modes of communication, whether a speaking or a writing, a listening or reading, all modes - interpretive, interpersonal and presentational should be used by the students. The usage of the language is where the new thinking truly begins. This cultural understanding can also be conveyed to the students through exchanges. It is so meaningful when my students connect with their partner from Gersthofen, and realize how similar they are as human beings. Through these exchanges, although expensive, we forge our diplomats of the next generation. It is clear in today’s global society whether for business deals, political diplomacy or simply accepting our neighbor, students must be exposed to these positive and negative attitudes / perspectives of cultures. Global citizens is what we are striving for in the classroom so that they can be the one making the million dollar deal with an international company, being the diplomat conversing in German with the Chancellor or simply being a friend to a new immigrant who just moved in next door. Through language and cultural connections, one grows in his/her international mindedness, empathy, life perspective, and moreover his/her thought process. I strive to develop cultural and linguistic competence for all learners to facilitate opportunities for connections to other humans. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” - Nelson Mandela