Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

2015 Update to Chloebentley’s Blog

To all my friends and family, I am blessed to be blogging in my sixth decade. I still have so much more I want to do, even though what I do right now is enough activity for at least six people. Last month, I walked a 1/2 marathon called the DC Rock n’ Roll. Cannot tell you how elated this achievement makes me.

For seven years, I have been helping all those who are searching for a cure to fight multiple sclerosis, alongside the most badass fighter I know, my own child. She is an inspiring advocate for health of body, mind and spirit and a true inspiration to our whole family. She is frankly the first reason I have paid such attention to my own diet and fitness level. I am in the best shape physically as I have been in many years,as a tribute to her and thanks to her.

I am still in the most exciting profession that anyone can have, a career in World Languages. This profession has brought me full circle from teaching French and Portuguese in the early years at my alma mater and now at ,y own institution. Presently, I teach all of my classes online, through one of the pioneers in distance learning.

I continue my journey in the world of OER, the solution to making educational materials to the world. This year, I will be working as Editor of MERLOT World Languages for 15 years. Through MERLOT, I have become involved in the MERLOT Africa Network. I am very proud of this work.

So what shall we talk about?

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Community College, e-learning, Languages, MS Awareness, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Advocacy Update: Get busy, y’all!!

Since my last post on advocacy, Jay Mathews got a lot of dissenting opinions on his April 22nd piece labeling Foreign Languages a waste of time and there were ripples and rumbles in the language community. Today, I read a tweet that copied this letter from ACTFL Executive Director, Bret Lovejoy.

I am going to call the above an official response. Please make sure folks in your area “get the memo.” It is time for us to speak up for languages. Write your own letters today.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | Languages, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Language Advocacy is everybody’s business, especially in 2010

Lately, I have been seeing some troubling trends that affect my profession in a big way. First, my alma mater, GWU, did away with its Foreign Language requirement. GW is where my language educator journey began under the guidance of my mentor, Professor John Andrew Frey, and it is essentially where I learned to appreciate and teach the French language that I love.  I just know how my dissertation director would have reacted to this  disheartening news. See the article:

Next, I have just learned that in 2010,  a Washington Post  columnist is debating why schools should bother to offer foreign languages at all:

My question is how did we get to the point in this flat world of ours that we still question the need to communicate with the rest of the world in languages other than English?  What is clear to me as a veteran language educator is that we all must speak up, new teachers and veterans, and challenge those who  do not see the obvious- that learning a second language is vital to our well-being and our future.  Communicative competence  opens the door to other cultures  and ways of thinking in the most authentic way possible.   Increasing the number of proficient speakers of languages other than Englishwill necessarily increase our global awareness,  economic strength and  our capacity to live in security and peace.

 It is ironic that the threat to language programs comes at a time where we have made so many technological breakthroughs that allow us to communicate globally. We now have all the tools to give students practical and meaningful experiences in the classroom.  Instead of limiting language study to doing routine and often boring drill work, students can actually communicate with  the world for free, via Skype and language exchanges such as Hello-Hello and the Mixxer. The technology is easy to use and most importantly, it is engaging. (Google these tools for more info.)  It is also so much easier to give our students meaningful study abroad experiences and service learning opportunities that allow them to interact directly with native speakers of the languages that they study in school.

(retrieved from Fulbright-Hays- Title VI website)

To my language colleagues, the time for advocacy is now. Our profession did not escape the economic downturn.  Indeed, teachers from all disciplines have been laid off due to budget shortfalls.  I know that when I was a young teacher in the early eighties, I was much more interested in what happened inside my classroom than in joining language organizations or writing letters, but if we do not all raise our voices to defend our discipline, who will do it for us?

What can we do as individuals?

  • Join your local language association and be active.  Most all of the state language organizations have conferences and websites where you can find out how to get involved.
  • Learn all about Foreign Language advocacy at
  • Write an article for your local language organization newsletter.
  • Showcase your language program in the local media. Keep FL in the public eye.
  • If you cannot participate personally in organization activities, your organization membership will still help support its FL advocacy efforts. Join so that they can use your membership dues to represent you.
  • Read about H.R. 4065 and let your representatives know you support it.
  • Plug into your regional language organization: NECTFL, Central States, SCOLT, and SWCOLT and PNCFL
  • Learn about ACTFL’s Discover Languages advocacy campaign and participate in it.

Blog about it, use the media, tweet…. no shortage of  ways to communicate, right?  Together, we can insure a better future for our profession.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | Community College, Languages, NECTFL | , , | 3 Comments

Summer 2009



Anyway you look at it, it’s summer in DC! Look how long it’s been since I’ve been in this blog!! Meu Deus no ceu, nao posso acreditar!!

These days I have been spending a lot more time in town and the doggies are certainly happy about that. I have had the time to bundle up my delicious and to twitter about language stuff. Summer is great for catching up with things I could not do before the AY ended.

no braces

I also get to spend more time with my  babies, which is way overdue. Priorities are coming into sharp focus and  I am convinced that this is how it was always meant to be.  We are battling, but we’re all so happy to have each other. Life is good.

MS is BS is gearing up for the Capital Challenge Walk in DC and we’ll be walking. We’ve already done pretty well with fundraising. Rick’s musician friends all pitched in for a BBQ blues jam to benefit our team. It was historic, the music was perfect, and the rain relented and gave way to the summer sun.

Life is good.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Languages, MS Awareness | Leave a comment

Que Saco!

Laura is a tool

Laura is a tool

Summer 2008 is fleeting fast. It seems like an eternity since my wonderful time in Paraty, Brasil in the southeast of Rio de Janeiro last month. There I visited the Saco do Mamangua, clearly one of the most beautiful places that I have been in 50+ years….. So what if I capsized my canoe in the mangrove, all my valuables were safely in another canoe with  paddlers with skills. All I had to do was not move (or breathe) and I made it safely to shore in Paraty Mirim. Will never forget the hospitality of Dona Gracinha, the little barquinhos made of caxeta wood that I brought home with me, and the utter beauty of the Atlantic rainforest where beautiful orchids with their roots extending in the air were attached to the trees. I saw pioneer vegetation growing timidly on land being reforested.

On the way to the rain forest with biologist, Paulo Nogara.

On the way to the rain forest with biologist, Paulo Nogara.

I hope to be able to find the book by Paulo Nogara, our biologist in residence from the tour,  who paddled our canoe like a gondolier. His love for this country was so evident. He was an excellent teacher who raised our awareness of both the beauty and the fragility of our surroundings. In retrospect, it was a great exercise in self-control to surrender to the movement of the boat. I finally “got it” Type A as I am. Mentally, I can still go back to the peace of the setting sun in the beautiful sunset of Paraty Mirim.

P.S. The little painted caicara boat that  I brought home from that day is sitting on my dining room table today. It helps me go back there in my mind.  When I think about the locomotion involved in it all- bus, boat, hike, canoe and  the plane ride home, the barquinho gave me a real workout then and now a lot of peace.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | Languages | , | Leave a comment

e/merge 2008

What a week!!!

I began it at Carnegie Mellon University for a workshop sponsored by the Open Learning Initiative. I got to know their French Online course up close and in person. It was a fabulous f2f experience and  I am thrilled about the prospect of continuing to connect with my new colleagues there. It shows the longevity and proves the utter logic of OER that after all these years of OCW and OLI, we are building a network that aims at providing more access. Even more important to me as an individual practitioner, this work provides us a forum in which we can discuss what really constitutes quality in online teaching and learning. I really need to have these conversations. To have them with  language educators was real ‘icing on the cake”.

One interesting point that came up here regarding instructional design of online courses was the study on the expert blind spot. (Nathan and Petrosino 2003 . Preconceived notions on how concepts should be presented can cause a disconnect between teaching goals and learning outcomes.  five days later, I keep hearing the message “You do  not think like your students and they do not think like you”. When we build and teach our online courses, we need to keep this difference in thinking in mind.

The rest of this week, I have been participating in a superb online conference sponsored by the Centre for Educational Technology in Cape Town, South Africa: e/merge. From the website:

“e/merge 2008 – Professionalising Practices is the third virtual conference on educational technology in Africa and builds on the e/merge conferences in 2004 and 2006. e/merge 2008 will take place online from 7 – 18 July 2008.”

So far, I really enjoyed a presentation by Howard Rheingold, whose work I have followed since his book  The Virtual Community years back. He now has a very interesting course going on at UC Berkeley called Visual Communications/Social Media. His class as explained on his online syllabus is super participatory with subheadings like “Participation mandatory”, “Leadership required”. He has students interacting in ways that immerse them in collaborative tasks while using all the new tools,blogs, wikis, etc.. .  Anyway, he was a keynoter at e/merge and his talk was followed by a robust discussion by educators around the world.

This virtual conference is employing every kind of new technology to connect participants. As much as I love to visit  places physically, it is wonderful to be able to experience so much collective  expertise without leaving home. This is particularly true since air travel has recently become so difficult, grueling and painfully inconvenient. (Hear my anguish??) I see no reason why we can and should not greatly augment the online component of all major conferences, partly as an access/inclusion issue for people who cannot attend f2f , as well as  for many other very good reasons.

July 11, 2008 Posted by | e-learning, Languages | , , , | Leave a comment

On my way to Accra

Sitting in the Amsterdam airport, a remarkable place in that it contains a Van Gogh museum and a casino in addition to all the shops and things you’d come to expect. But best for me is that I have this wi-fi connection . I’m sitting outside this area called “the communication zone” and it’s a joy to be able to communicate. So  y’all keep that in mind when you need to connect somewhere. I wish we could get out and actually SEE Amsterdam, but that’ll be another day.

Rick and I are on our way to Ghana for the first Pan-African forum on Open Educational Resources. With my colleagues from the MERLOT African Network, Dr. Moustapha Diack, Dr. Gerry Hanley, who is also the Executive Director of MERLOT, and Dr. Solomon Negash, we are all going to give a MERLOT workshop for educators from all over Africa and the world. Hard to put into words what a great thing this is.

OERS are really taking off and it’s about time to acknowledge the hard work folks have been doing to increase access to technology-enhanced learning materials.Look at all these portals on Wiki Educator .  The bottom line is they are all making  very good materials available for free. Why? Cause it is the right thing to do.

Over the next several days, I hope to  be blogging the conference from Ghana. Please check back here for updates. I expect this trip will be a wonderful adventure.

May 26, 2008 Posted by | Languages | , , | 1 Comment

NECTFL 2008: I don’t have ADD, I’m just not listening

Marc Prensky,  was the keynote speaker for the opening session of the 55th conference for the 2008 Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and what can I say but that “he rocked it”. My kids are playing a lot of Rock Band lately so that’s the first thing that comes to my mind. To get the flavor of Prensky’s ideas, check out a few minutes of his comments when his latest book was recently published in Italy. (Focus on the ideas, because the format in the video is VERY different from the event we experienced in the conference venue. At NECTFL, Prensky was  much freer to move about interacting with his audience and the digital presentation he brings with him.) 

In this video, we can see him on one of his favorite learning tools, YouTube.:

Now back to New York and the Northeast Conference—-

 His remarks  centered  as  they usually do on student engagement and allowing the learner to play a BIG role in how they learn. He encouraged teachers to allow students to use YouTube, their cell phones, blogs, wikis and podcasts to construct new learning activities. For example, imagine a classrom where instead of announcing “Shut off your cellphones”, teachers asked students to pick them up to find information that would be used right there in the lesson. It might be that they’d “phone a friend” a la Millionnaire, or look something up on a Sidekick or Blackberry or even take pictures or a video that could later go up on YouTube- in the target language. No doubt the students could imagine all kinds of ways to use phones for learning that we digital immigrants cannot begin to imagine. And that’s cool- the first step to a level playing field in the classroom where student-centered becomes learning-centered and technology is just the tool that enables communication. (Although in the participation phase, one student reported that if she did not have her cell phone, she could not live.)

A highlight was when high school and middle school students came on the stage to interact with Prensky about what they liked about studying a language and what they really did not like. The dream situation for them was to be able to go to a place where the TL was being spoken and to be able to communicate and get what they want. Technology enables real-world communication and so does speaking the language. Students realize that both skills are part of the equation. The less interesting part from the learner perspective was the classroom drilling with one student using the analogy of a nail/lesson  being hammered into his head. The students reported that they enjoyed being asked how they’d like to have their school work designed. They liked the opportunity to be creative and they liked it when language learning led to real-world communication They said that they wanted to learn the language that would help them negotiate practical needs when traveling.

The onstage interview was followed by an exchange between the students and the teachers in the audience.Teachers came up to microphones in the crowded ballroom to bridge the gap between digital immigrants, those of us who predate computers and the digital natives on stage.  It was an  invigorating experience to hear the conversation about re-imagining  how we all work in a digital world.  In Prensky’s world, we are all learners with the power to transform the educational experience for all.  It is a place where everyone is learning, creating , sharing and collaborating.

His slides are posted on the Northeast Conference home page:

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Languages, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Living Room by Paris Combo

I had a few ironic experiences today. First, my daughter was watching the 6th season of the Sopranos on netflicks, the episode where Carmela is walking around Paris taking in le Louvre, les ponts, les belles statues, etc. and were it not for the occasional F-word I could almost teach a very communicative French lesson based on her wonderment and surprise. And of course, I had to think about the discussions that could emerge from  contrasting the Paris she experienced in her privileged condition with the everyday life of city dwellers of lesser economic means.

Then out of the blue, I went to youtube and found new music from one of my favorite groups, Paris Combo, and the title tune Living Room. It was wild to hear these lyrics, right after my Soprano Paris experience:

Nous sommes tous nés d’amour dans de vieux pays
Où seuls de vieux, de très vieux singes sont assis
Aux commandes de nos libertés
Aux manettes de nos intégrités
Alors tapons-nous sur le nez
Ca les fait toujours rigoler
Allez, tapons-nous, entre nous
Ca leur fera toujours de gros sous
Quand ils nous vendront des canifs
Et des idées malsaines
Pour que nos petites vies s’enfouissent
Dans la violence et la haine

Alors quoi, on va coucher dehors
Sous les ponts, sous des ponts d’or
Que d’autres auront construits pour aller de leur cuisine
A leur living…

Leur living room
C’est pas du flan, c’est pas du vent
C’est le living room des vieux singes savants

Nous sommes tous nés, mon ami
Nous sommes tous vivants, c’est inscrit
Dans notre oeil, tu vois, au fond ça luit
D’une envie de vivre, d’une envie

De parcourir le monde
Cette bonne terre si gironde
Mais non, mais non, voilà qu’on nous gronde !
Car sans laisser-passer
Faut pas se laisser aller

A rêver d’une autre vie, mon ami
Non faut pas rêver
Car pour rêver, faut des “laisser-passer”
Du papier, pour passer sa vie

De l’autre côté du pont, des ponts d’or, dehors
Y’en a des tonnes, c’est pas qu’on les ignore
Car on les voit souvent passer de leur cuisine
A leur living…


Voilà comment, quand on y pense
Nous sommes tous devenus des éléphants
Des gnous, des girafes, des orang-outangs
Dans nos réserves sous surveillance

Et qu’on n’aille pas s’égarer
En troupeau ou bien tout seul, isolé
Dans les réserves d’à côté
On est sûr de tomber sur un os

Un osthéopathe de première

Qui vous démembrera, c’est son affaire !
De vous faire passer l’envie
Des voyages interdits

Interdits dans nos vieux pays
Où seuls de vieux, de très vieux singes sont assis
Dans leur cuisine, ils gambergent
Pour améliorer leur living… 

(Note: Lyrics found at songmeanings.)

I just marvel at how a totally coincidental TV experience happened moments before I fell upon this incredibly evocative song. It’s like my mind was meant to go here today. I cannot wait to hear the rest of the cd.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | Languages | Leave a comment

Bee rocks the house NOLA style.

It was a special morning in New Orleans on Friday when Bee invited the Webheads in Action to the MERLOT 2007 conference via Alado and Second Life. They checked in from Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Taiwan etc. etc.. Bee was really effective in showing how small the world can be when educators with a passion for sharing get together. No more working in isolation. The potential for exciting collaborations between teachers and students worldwide is already  there. Hear/see the keynote at Alado and see Bee’s spectacular NOLA pics at flickr tagged merlot2007onlap. It was really a week to remember.

Our community workday at an historic elementary in Mid-City was a phenomenal start. Forty-two MERLOT folks taping and painting trim in an elementary school that saw five feet of water in its ground floor level after Katrina. They lost everything inside either because of the water or the mold after the water receded.  Our work was a small contribution in light of the need, but it did wonders for all of us. The school is going to be better than it was before Katrina given the hard work of the many volunteers who are working there. Troy, the volunteer coordinator told us that this was one of nine schools he was readying for a Fall start. Everybody wanted to do as much as he/she could.

MERLOT had a new feature called Learning Circles this year and they were very well received by the attendees. MERLOT World Languages sponsored one called The Many Languages of MERLOT where attendees from Brazil, Israel, Japan, Senegal, Canada, Italy, Chile, Spain, the US and the UK and other lands  all spoke volumes about how MERLOT could evolve into a more multilingual resource. The discussion moved from the political “Do we translate?”, to”What do we translate?” and then to a  more technical, but extremely stimulating conversation about metadata. Mous Diack, from Southern University and A&M College and director of the MERLOT African Network project, rightly identified  language as a real access issue. Susanna Dammann, project manager of Linguanet Europa (MERLOT’s 2007 Editor’s Choice award winner) and her Linguanet colleagues, Jose Ignacio and Luis, from the Instituto Cervantes and the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid gave MERLOT many good ideas on possible directions in which to proceed. This meeting was one of the more profitable new features at the MIC because it brought home the growing international  contingent in many different disciplines. The community-building was great as participants talked and MERLOT listened.

Back in the French quarter, we took in the wonderful Rue Royale at night. Art, jewlery, antiques, everything glowed in the light of the gaslight lamps.  The jellyfish lamps were among my favorites. Diane showed us some great art, including a few original Rodrigues at K-Pauls. Will we ever forget the Duck and Shrimp Vindaloo? The Creole Mary’s?

August 11, 2007 Posted by | Languages, merlot2007onlap, Uncategorized | Leave a comment