Full disclosure…I am not a world languages person. On the curriculum, side…yes. I can draft beautiful essential questions and help build units of study. I know the goal of language instruction, the value in it. But, on the practical side of things, when it comes to actually speaking a language, I kind of stink at it. Always have.
When I was in Germany I got around ok. Most Germans speak English and they like to practice. Germans begin learning English in first grade and it is a core subject for all students in the country.
By the end of two weeks in Germany, I found myself understanding more and more of the language and I got a lot of satisfaction as I began to recognize words and try phrases out. Our group’s favorite word was entschuldigung which means “excuse me.” We just liked the ring of it. There’s a certain knack to saying it that makes it sound like a carnival ride.
I got home from the TOP Study Tour and craved more German. I wanted to learn it. It’s the first language I am actually excited about learning! I took Spanish, French, and Italian in high school and college and never became fluent in any of them. German piqued my interest because I had made connections with the language through first-hand experience. Every day I have been practicing. My husband, who is half German, says my pronunciation is awful. But, I can read it and I will work on rolling my R’s later.
I think my experience underscores the importance of making connections for our students when it comes to world languages. My drive to learn more German came from my visit. It came when I was frustrated and confused and intrigued in a foreign country. That drive also came from choice. Learning German is my choice. It isn’t forced on me or dictated by someone. It’s all about me. I believe this will, inevitably, lead me to learn more and retain more.
The challenge for educators is to make those connections for students in world language classes. It doesn’t come from the words and their translations and the vocabulary. Wanting to learn a language comes from exposure to the culture, the people, and the traditions of a place.
Now, entschuldigung. I must get back to moving!