2020 Hall of Fame Nominee
2020 Finalist from SCOLT
The power of languages was revealed to me at a young age while watching the classic 1940’s film Miracle on 34th Street. In one memorable scene, an immigrant child speaks with Santa Claus at the flagship Macy’s store. She is bewildered by her unfamiliar surroundings and the unknown English language, but her face lights up when Santa addresses her in her native Dutch. This scene illuminates the human need for belonging and the power of languages to help us feel seen and heard. The impression this moment made was lasting and I decided to devote my life and career to sharing my passion for languages and cultures. After sixteen years in the field, this enthusiasm has spread to my students: Caitlin has been a nanny in Germany for almost a decade, Chris teaches English in Heilbronn to bilingual preschoolers, and Ryan got an engineering job at BMW thanks to his command of German, among many others.
The value of developing linguistic and cultural competence extends beyond the individual to benefit the entire community through creative problem-solving and the exchange of ideas. I’ll never forget a FLANC conference session in which the presenter elucidated how strategies used to hasten the demise of the Berlin Wall during the 1989 Peaceful Revolution might be applied by contemporary societies to peacefully resolve complicated issues or overthrow despotic governments. By studying how other cultures have handled societal challenges, we are better equipped to confront crises within our own communities, like dealing with climate change or reforming our educational system.
>As globalization expands and humans gain the ability to communicate with ever-widening circles, language learning becomes even more essential to counteract misunderstandings and to build strong international relationships that will ensure peaceful co-existence. During our exchange program, one participant viewed the German penchant for keeping interior doors closed as a sign of rudeness, but deeper reflection revealed the perspectives behind this common practice: the elevated population density leads to a greater desire for privacy and closed doors help retain heat in Germany’s northern latitude. We language teachers give students a valuable gift: the ability to examine our preconceived notions and use this insight to advocate for social justice and empathy towards our fellow humans.
The communicative skills learned in the World Language classroom are at the foundation of a modern enlightened civilization and reinforce the democratic ideals of free speech. Language-learners are consistently exposed to the idea that by working together, we are stronger. Whether through cooperative tasks or interdisciplinary approaches to learning, our students regularly apply new skills in a way that improves their understanding of themselves and others. These capabilities are the cornerstone of a democratic society. My students experience how knowledge of other languages and cultures allows individuals to interact with each other respectfully and in a manner that leads to increased compassion for different worldviews. Every day in a North Carolina German classroom, my childhood aspiration to impart the excitement of language learning is realized as my students discover the world.