A Happy New Year to all FLANC members. As you are aware as an experienced foreign language teacher, students’ motivations to learn foreign languages are diverse. The old characterization of motivation in terms of instrumental vs. integrative orientations may be too static, restricted, or even obsolete, but some may want to learn a second/foreign language so that they can improve their career opportunities while others may simply desire to learn more about their ethnic backgrounds. And some others may desire to play an active role in an increasingly global culture and society. Whatever their motivations are, as foreign language teachers, we should always be ready to help them.
To begin with, I would like to report that the FLANC Workshops and Conference 2011 – Tweet in Two Languages (or Tweet in Many Languages, in fact) was a great success. To those who attended the conference, I would like to say thank you. To the presenters, I would like to say thank you very much for making preparations for your presentations. We were very happy to have all of you at the conference. And we were also happy to be just in time for distributing Volume 5 of Connections, the official journal of FLANC, to those who attended the conference.
We were also glad to have our conference at Berkeley City College (BCC), at which we have had our conference for two consecutive years. BCC has great facilities, and all presentations were given on its basement level. Unlike the 2010 conference, the lunch was provided in a big conference room on the fourth floor this time, but still, everything was compact and very convenient. At the 2010 conference I had the opportunity of introducing Dr. Christa Jones, Vice President of BCC, to conference attendees. This time I enjoyed the opportunity of meeting and introducing Dr. Betty Inclan, President of BCC.
Many activities were organized to promote cross-cultural understanding at the FLANC Conference. One of them was a live lecture-demonstration of flower arrangement entitled “The Odyssey of Ikenobo Ikebana: 550 Years” by Ms. Nobu Kurashige, Head Ikenobo Professor and Managing Director of Ikenobo Ikebana, North America. Incidentally, ikebana means “live-flower arrangement” in Japanese, and Ms. Kurashige’s ikebana demonstration illustrated the dazzling beauty of flowers as interpreted in this art form for over 500 years. We felt, at the time of the conference, that it might be a good idea to ask Ms. Kurashige to write a short article on her thoughts about cross-cultural understanding through flower arrangements for Connections.
I would also like to report my continued participation in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Convention, which, held on November 18-20 at the Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colorado, hosted more than 6,500 language teachers and administrators and offered more than 600 program sessions and workshops, as well as over 225 exhibits. It was very nice to meet and talk with Ms. Edith Beard Brady, World Languages Specialist of Heinle/Cengage Learning (note that Cengage Learning has been a continued supporter of FLANC).
In addition to the excitement surrounding the ACTFL Convention (which I will later describe in detail), my trip to Denver turned out to be a memorable journey because it gave me a chance to reminisce my cross-country travel in my youthful days. More than thirty years ago when I was a 21-year-old college senior, a friend of mine and I travelled across the United States by Greyhound bus. We started our journey from Los Angeles early August, and we visited many places including Washington DC, New York City, and Niagara Falls. We then visited Toronto, travelled back to the West Coast through Canada by train, and finally arrived in San Francisco in early September.
Earlier in that trip, we travelled from Salt Lake City to Denver. When we arrived in Denver, my backpack, which should have been stored underneath in the baggage compartment, was missing. I was stunned when I was told at the Denver Greyhound bus terminal (which was not very clean, typical of downtown bus terminals in those days) that my backpack must have gone to Omaha, Nebraska, and it would take at least a couple of days for me to get it back! While waiting for my backpack to be sent back to Denver, I spent my time visiting nearby places including Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I saw large, tilted, disc-shaped rocks there, but at that time, I, a naïve young man, was so concerned about my backpack (which had virtually everything) that I could hardly enjoy the natural wonder! This unfortunate incident gave me some trepidation about visiting the Mile High City. More than three decades had passed since then, and this was the very first time for me to visit the Mile High City! This time, once again, I went to Red Rocks, which made me feel reminiscent or even nostalgic, and this time I really enjoyed it. I also visited the Denver Greyhound bus terminal, but its surrounding area seemed to have completely changed into a clean, urban neighborhood!
Let’s move back to the ACTFL convention. The invited speaker of the opening session was Dr. Milton Chen, Senior Fellow and Executive Director Emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Dr. Chen’s speech was entitled “Empowering Language Educators Through Collaboration.” According to him, 32% of K-12 students are learning foreign languages, although ACTFL’s most recent enrollment survey reports that only 18.5% of all K-12 “public” students were enrolled in foreign language courses from 2004-2008 (see Volume 5 of Connections, p. 49). Furthermore, only 8% of college students are learning foreign languages. You may be surprised at these low percentages and may doubt the accuracy of these low figures. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Modern Language Association (MLA), however, as of the fall of 2009, of the students in approximately 2,500 colleges and universities, almost 1.7 million students were enrolled in non-English language courses — almost identical to the figure reported in Dr. Chen’s speech.
However, do not lose hope. In the mid 1960s, nearly double the aforementioned share of college students (16.5%) studied foreign languages. But in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, universities began dropping foreign language studies as a degree requirement. This decision led the percentage of students enrolled in foreign languages to drop to a low of 7.3% by 1980. From a long-term point of view from the 1960s to the 1980s, therefore, a declining trend continued. Luckily, studying foreign languages is now rebounding. More American students are studying foreign languages, particularly non-European languages such as Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese.
One of the highlights of the convention was Mr. Yo Azama of North Salinas High School (Salinas, CA), a Japanese language teacher, being named the 2012 National Language Teacher of the Year. Because the Teacher of the Year is chosen from a field of five regional winners from around the United States, the award is arguably the most prestigious one in the field of foreign language education in the country. “The world needs a deeper understanding of each other. One student, one colleague, one friend at a time, we are changing the world,” Mr. Azama told the teachers gathered at the Colorado Convention Center during the opening session. He also thanked his students for inspiring him every day and said that he would keep his promise “to make them sushi next week.” The National Language Teacher of the Year award is sponsored by ACTFL and publisher Holt McDougal. As a spokesperson for language education over the coming year, Mr. Azama will deliver presentations at foreign language conferences, meet with policymakers, and appear at events to promote language education. He will thus spend the next year as an ACTFL ambassador, promoting the significance of foreign language education, and getting involved in many other advocacy activities on behalf of foreign languages, not just the Japanese language alone.
Mr. Azama is the very first teacher of Japanese language to win this award, which was a memorable event indeed. I am proud of him not only as his countryman but also as a language instructor who teaches the same tongue. Again, I felt that it might be a good idea to ask Mr. Azama to write something for Connections or even to invite him to give a speech on foreign language teaching. This is why I wrote earlier that my journey to Denver turned out to be a memorable journey in more ways than one.
To conclude, I would like to borrow what Ms. Maki Watanabe Isoyama of the Japan Foundation in Los Angeles once said. Advocating not only specific-language education, but also foreign-language education has a significant impact. This is so because if each of our language programs is a tree – specific-language programs to which our language program belongs form a grove. And, more important, foreign language education forms a forest. We need to make people be aware of the value of foreign language education. Advocating the importance and benefits of learning not only a specific language but also foreign languages in general has significant meaning. To make this forest grow, it is essential that we as language educators establish solid networking and collaboration across languages so that it may flourish and enrich the whole world.
Your FLANC President,
Masahiko Minami, SF State University