On the bus ride to my office a few weeks ago, I noticed a young child with his parents. He was fussing so I started chatting with him to distract him, with mom and dad’s approval of course. Subsequently, I learned that the family were French. This caused me to recall a conclusion I had already reached but not shared in my blog about teacher’s professional preparation and continuing professional development (CPD).
First a bit of background about myself: I was born and raised in the US. English is my native and only (so far) language. From an academic standpoint, I understood the argument for learning a second language for native-English speakers in the US. However, it was not until I pursued a graduate degree in London England that I came to believe that learning a second language was especially important for teachers. Though all of my classmates spoke English I was exposed to many students from different countries. Even my British classmates and I misunderstood each other due to our different “English” languages. I also realized, for the first time, that I had an “accent”. By attending classes with my classmates, eating meals with other students, staying at a student residence, and sightseeing in London, I personally experienced (and not just read) about a different country, culture, and land. I done some reading about travelling and living in London before my first course but it’s different than being there. Through my conversations with students and professors and my reflections on all my experiences (both in and outside the classroom in London), I came to believe that as an educator I had a responsibility to become more intimately aware of the world beyond my native country’s borders. My classmates and professors not just formally taught me but informally showed me how people did things differently, including education. I will always remember a certain approach to education, such as tuition free higher education in Germany, because my classmate from Germany told me about this issue. Granted, I could have found this information on the Internet but this, and many other exchanges, led me to the conclusion that I could learn so much from other people outside of the US. One way was to immerse myself in a second language because through language one can learn much more about a country’s issues.
For teachers, present and potential, who have difficulty learning a language, their struggle can remind them of how their students feel when they are learning something new. As an educator I believe that every teacher, and future teacher, in the US should be required to learn a second language to receive their teaching certificate. It can be part of their teacher prep program. To me, it does not matter so much which language they learn. It’s more about the process rather than the product. By becoming proficient in a second language teachers can establish relationships with teachers in other countries. Granted, US teachers can teach each other a lot but those from other countries offer an additional lens. Just as US teachers can also do the same for teachers in other countries. Needless to say, I am following my own advice by re-learning French. Though I took several years of it in high school and college I have forgotten 90% of it.