Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

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

Habib Koité

The other night, Rick and I spontaneously showed up at Wolf Trap. Finally, the weather is calming down and becoming,well, reasonable. In the back of my mind, I am seeing myself running soon. But let’s not get too carried away. Well, we went to see Habib Koité, a super guitarist from Mali with his band Bamada. They really did not need the auditorium seating. Folks were lilting up and down, on and off the stage, at the band’s suggestion to dance,dance,dance. We were all connecting with this wonderful music in our way. Here is a daily motion video, so you get a sense of Habib.

Don’t you just love those camels floating up and back in the video? I like the chill dance moves, too. Koité has an absolutely uncanny ability to invite you into each song. My heart still belongs to my favorite Senegalese singer, Youssou N’Dour, but I was absolutely taken in by Koité.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MS Awareness Week March 8-14 2010

My baby is soon to be 23 and we are still fighting to find a cure for MS. This month, a new drug comes out to improve her walking speed. This year, a new oral drug will give some folks relief from injections and infusions that have been an annoying part of their regular routine. I have only begun to focus on the impact of this disease on my own health. So during this Awareness Week, I am re-dedicating myself to my own fitness and health, because I can only be strong for her if I am strong. And I have had better days……

Lexi’s mobility has changed significantly in one year. She walks with a cane and tires easily. Most of the energy she does have goes into organizing her surroundings to have the most normal life possible. We have wonderful friends all around us who support us with so much grace.

On April 11, our team MSisBS will walk in the Reston Walk MS 3.5 mile walk. I hope all our friends and family will walk with us in solidarity, either physically or through their continuing support.

One love, one heart.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Sometimes I think about the baby inside one of those Russian nesting dolls. What a fascinating design. Every other doll opens and creates suspense and expectation until you come to the baby. Life feels like that- so incredibly multi-layered until you get back to that beginning part that does not open on demand. The little hard-core baby is in there resting all the time.

I see the repetition of this metaphor in my current research of instructional technologies. Always in search of the simple, open and free, I end up in a lot of wikis that contain a lot of links to place to explore, some to which I have been and some to which I promise to return, via delicious. I have made friends this way. Some of us bump into each other on the same or parallel roads. Finding and sorting the resources is sometimes like a kind of e-hoarding- you never know when something may be useful later. I was hoping my laptop would be a place that could stay neater than my desk or my datebook, but I have to be vigilant to make that so.

It all begins with good intentions. Facebook is easy enough because it is limited to family and a few friends, then there is Twitter which is riskier because the Followed have a tendency to take you in all different directions. Nonetheless, it can lead to very fascinating places. Then there are the wikis of those I admire and trust where I find we are all drawn to so many lists like “the top ten”, “the hundred best” “1000 things you need to know” “7 incredible revelations”. I find good things at these places, but it takes time.

I am pretty sure our brains are changing.

January 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Twitterin’ about languages and new media

I cannot contain myself about the minimalist beauty of sharing with people whose work I had long followed in print, listserves and even in person, now in just 14o characters or less.  I am one of those who does not have to struggle to stay within 140.  This happy limit teaches me how tight writing can really be.  The big question I wrestle with is the same one I have year after year.  Is this something that will spill into my language teaching?

So I read this article in Le Monde online (24/6/09) with the title ”

La révolution sera twitterisée… et oubliée”

There was something comforting about seeing that  Twitter adjective in French that made me think this might be the right time to talk to my French students about using Twitter for language learning. I have also begun having conversations with colleagues about how they use Twitter in language teaching. Most of these uses are extremely creative and very different than just answering  the question “What are you doing?” I’m getting so many great ideas this way.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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

A Pill for MS is Coming and then a cure….

I know this is a language blog, but it is also about me. So please indulge me in a moment on the laura side…..

I have to be hopeful. It is all I have. I was in Brazil last summer, nine hours on the plane away from my family, when I learned that my 21 year old daughter has MS. How could that possibly be? These days we watch many of her AAU basketball buddies with whom she played in high school battling it out in the ACC and Big East- Duke, UConn, Maryland. My little girl with the six foot wingspan and leopard print cane battles a different opponent and we are proud of her tenacious D.

This is MS Awareness month. Every hour someone else is diagnosed. They will feel sick, feel hot, feel cold, lose their balance, sleep a lot and then suffer amnesia. They will lose feeling in their feet and legs and then get sensation back and lose it again. They will feel the love of their friends and family and still feel very alone. They will inject themselves every other day with the hope that their treatment will be successful.

Yet this is MS Awareness month and look what I found out today:

In April, we will be walking in Walk MS. We have hope that a pill is coming. A pill and then a cure. All of you who have MS or have loved ones who do, we walk for you, too. MS does not define us. One love, one heart.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | MS Awareness, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

International Faculty Development Seminar: Brasil

As promised to my colleagues, here are a few more details of my study trip to what my daughters call “the land of my ancestors”. The college newsletter blurb had to be abridged, so I’ll be more expansive here . Anyone who occasionally visits here now knows that chronology (and sometimes editing) goes right out the janela……

This International Faculty Development Seminar held from June 1-10, 2008 in Sao Paulo and Paraty, Brazil was an exercise in absorbing contrasts- from the bustling city of millions of inhabitants to the last vestiges of the pristine Atlantic rainforest in  the southernmost part of Rio de Janeiro state. Although my roots are Brazilian and I am fluent in Portuguese, my family ties are much farther north, closer to the very different Amazon region. The seminar greatly increased my knowledge base on BRIC country economics, ever-controversial environmental issues and the changing role of Brazil today.

The first week was largely devoted to a vast variety of insightful pre-planned lectures and field trips. Some topics discussed included:

  • Ecology and Politics in Brazil
  • Education and Sustainable Development
  • Challenges of Modern Brazilian Politics
  • Development and Environmental Impacts in Brazil
  • Social Movements in Brazil: Landless People and their Struggles
  • Issues of the Brazilian Native Indians
  • New Resources for Alternative Energy: The Case of Ethanol
  • Urban Expansion, Population Growth and Quality of Life in Brazil
  • Poverty and Development in Brazil
  • Challenges in Brazilian Education

The seminar was hosted by the Assessoria de Relações Internacionais (International Relations Commission) of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC). PUC, founded in 1946, has 22,000 students and 2,000 professors and is considered among the best universities in Brazil. It is well-known for its Paulo Freire Chair, one of the decisive factors in my selection of this seminar. The PUC organizers went out of their way to bring us in close contact with leading experts in their respective fields. For example, the noted economist, Ladislau Dowbor, appeared so in his comfort zone as he lectured on complex issues and promptly invited us to almost all of his scholarly works online. If your field is Latin American economics, you must visit him online. (My friends  all know of my delight in sharing ideas freely online.) Our expert on the current emergent economy was a senior macroeconomist from the prestigious Bradesco bank. It was ironic that the title of his talk spoke of the “Challenges of the Economy”, but his message was optimistic with Brazil on the move with the Chinese, Russians and Indians.

Movimento sem terra

Movimento sem terra

Touring was fantastic. We were hardly settled in our modern business hotel when we were whisked off on a bus to a settlement of the Landless Movement or Movimento sem Terra with a group of CIEE students studying at the PUC. The student mission was to talk to the farmers about their settlements and their sustainable agricultural projects. The students were asked to translate these interviews for the faculty visitors. (My student guide had it easy since I speak Portuguese. We taked about his study abroad experience which seemed to be first rate.)  To reach the MST, we climbed unpaved rocky roads to three- room homes of settlers who were proud to speak of their hard work. We learned that this type of visit was atypical, mostly because the MST do not always trust outsiders. Reasons include security issues and the sometime negative depictions of them in the press. Yet because the MST members were treated with great respect by the mostly American CIEE students, they were very generous with their time and in sharing their community life with us. This visit was an eye-opener to me because it allowed me to see the kind of authentic experiences our own NOVA students might have on a similar CIEE trip. They were well-informed in advance by their teachers, they had been in Brazil long enough to communicate appropriately with the MST and all Portuguese speakers and they had obviously absorbed the Brazilian culture in which they were immersed.

Parati, a walk in the past.

Parati, a walk in the past.

The other part of this visit was to Paraty, an historic, marvelously preserved colonial city in the south of Rio state. Here is an excerpt from an earlier post in this blog where I talk about my experience in the Saco de Mamangua, our gateway to the Atlantic rain forest:

“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 (boats) 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 into the air were attached to the trees. I saw pioneer vegetation growing timidly on land being reforested.

I hope to be able to find the book by Paulo Nogara, our biologist in residence from the tour,  who paddled our canoe like some practiced 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.

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.”  The CIEE IFDS experience was wonderful, particularly the hospitality of our gracious hosts, Ana Luisa and Mauricio. I think this faculty development trip should be offered annually in Brazil. The rich diversity of this country the size of a continent informs our world-view and our practice as educators.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Let’s talk amongst ourselves- MERLOT Voices

View my page on MERLOT Voices

MERLOT now has a social networking page where we can talk and share info. I do hope all my friends will join and make it rock! I’ll see y’all in there,

Update 9/23: We have been having great conversations in MERLOT VOICES, Adobe Connect and at the TLT group site in a three-week, worldwide version of MERLOT 101. If anyone shows up here between 9/23 and Oct/1, you can register and join our group, where else? in MERLOT VOICES.

We are not quite as big as the 1900+ Connectivism Course that I am taking with George Siemens and Stephen Downes as facilitators. I am  learning amazing things there, which in my experience happens when you put the world together. I have found a worldwide community of bloggers called Global Voices and a related Lingua Project that has volunteer translators translating the GV pages. I love it!!!

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment


Dr. Bakary Diallo, rector of the African Virtual University presented the learning architecture and e-learning solutions currently in use in educational institutions in 27 African countries.  Currently a blended mode of instruction is used incorporating Internet, CDs and mobile technologies. Access to higher education in Africa  is often adversely affected by economic issues, bandwidth, outdated curricula and teaching and learning methods. Open educational resources are at the center of the AVU conceptual framework which draws inspiration from promising practices from other areas of the world and adapt these  to an African cultural context.

Dr.Diallo announced plans to release 73 Math and Science & ICT modules prepared by Africans, working with organizations like the MERLOT Africa Network. 

Solomon Negash introduced the audience to the MERLOT Africa Network. This project is about developing partnerships with institutions of higher learning to collect content and share ideas.  he introduced us to eGranary, a  tool that allows users to use Internet sites on an intranet when a web connection is not available.

Infrastructure challenges are huge in Africa, according to Negash, but he encouraged the audience members to share his vision to think big and start small.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | , | Leave a comment