Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Monthly Archives: March 2018

Foreign Languages: A World of Possibilities — my new article

“Foreign Languages: A World of Possibilities” — my article in the December 2017 issue of the International Journal of Languages & Linguistics.

IJLL cover

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Languages do matter!


Macron unveils strategy to promote French language

“President Emmanuel Macron, whose mastery of English is unprecedented among French leaders, will on Tuesday unveil his strategy to promote his native language, aiming to make it the first language in Africa, ‘maybe even the world’.

On Tuesday, International Francophonie Day, he will set out his plan to improve the standing of French, the world’s fifth most spoken language.”

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Languages do matter!

Are Lithuanians obsessed with bees? Lithuanian, the most conservative of all Indo-European languages, is riddled with references to bees.

“Lithuanian, the most conservative of all Indo-European languages, is riddled with references to bees.

But the fact that these references to bees have been preserved over hundreds of years demonstrates something rather interesting about the Lithuanian language: according to the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, it’s the most conservative of all living Indo-European languages. While its grammar, vocabulary and characteristic sounds have changed over time, they’ve done so only very slowly. For this reason, the Lithuanian language is of enormous use to researchers trying to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European, the single language, spoken around four to five millennia ago, that was the progenitor of tongues as diverse as English, Armenian, Italian and Bengali.”

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Languages do matter!

Foreign Language Education in the US — My Cross Country Travels — Presenting/Participating at MLA, NECTFL, SWCOLT, CSCTFL, and SCOLT

I was honored this year to have been invited to present at the 2018 MLA conference in New York, and the annual regional councils of SWCOLT, CSCTFL, and SCOLT (in chronological order). I attended NECTFL as a member of the Advisory Council and of the l’Ordre des Palmes académiques, CSCTFL as an member of the Advisory Council, and SCOLT as a Sponsor.

conferences 2018

My conference travels took me from my NYC-area home to Santa Fe, Milwaukee, and Atlanta to present on the role of foreign language advocacy in supporting both proficiency and the personal and professional empowerment that stems from foreign language skills, to listen to and learn from dedicated foreign language educators from across the country, and to make new friends for French/foreign language advocacy.

While the enthusiasm, dedication, and professionalism of the foreign language educators at each of these conferences were inspirational, the lack of foreign language learning among US students is a cause for concern within the profession and beyond. With fewer than 20% of US K-12 students studying a foreign language, and only 7.5% of college and university students enrolled in a course in a language other than English, the US foreign language deficit has not been addressed, despite our best efforts.

The programs differed somewhat, based on the conference theme and local interests, but I came away encouraged by the emphasis on proficiency, and on linguistic and cultural skills. In addition, the increasing interest in and support for immersion programs as a complement to traditional foreign language education, and especially, the number of sessions on advocacy, give hope for the future.

Advocacy, with its proactive role in “defense” of foreign language learning, and its collaborative nature as a stakeholder partnership including parents and communities, business and government, and educators, is both the foundation for a resurgence of foreign language learning in the US, and the means to achieve it.

Languages do matter!


Essential Reading

The Bilingual Revolution (2017). By Fabrice Jaumont. TBR Books.

Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education (2018).

Foreign Languages in Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World (2007).

The National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey (2017).

Kathy Presenting at the SCOLT 2018 Conference in Atlanta

I am honored to have been invited to present on “The Role of Advocacy in Building Foreign Language Proficiency at All Levels” at the SCOLT (Southern Conference on Language Teaching) 2018 Conference in Atlanta on Friday.

scolt 03-16-18 9

The balmy weather was a sharp contrast to below-freezing temperatures in North Jersey, and was mirrored by the warm welcome I received at the registration desk.

In addition to my own presentation, I was able to attend several interesting and informative sessions on supporting students in foreign language learning, dual-language immersion, the state of world languages in Georgia, advocacy for foreign language education, strategic choices in enhancing university foreign language programs, and the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.

I found the emphasis on foreign language advocacy and dual-language immersion — with its real-world/real-life impact on individual careers and state/regional economic growth — both interesting and encouraging.

I was able to visit with friends at the AATF table in the spacious and well-attended multi-level exhibit area and to meet the SCOLT Teacher of the Year, one of AATF’s own, and enjoyed interacting with dedicated foreign language educators throughout the day.

The conference venue was both attractive and comfortable, with wonderful tech support staff, and conveniently located adjacent to the airport. I actually spotted a group of conference attendees enjoying our box lunch picnic-style on the lawn off the exhibit area with a large plane parked nearby!  🙂

Special thanks to the conference organizers for having invited me to present, and to my gracious session presider. Congratulations on a successful and well-attended conference, and best wishes for continued success.

Languages do matter!

“The decline in enrollments appears to be ‘the beginning of a trend rather than a blip'” — From the MLA Newsletter, Spring 2018

In the current spring 2018 issue of the MLA Newsletter, I read this week that “the report finds that the decline in enrollments appears to be ‘the beginning of a trend rather than a blip,’ a cause for concern — and a challenge for all of us who are foreign language educators, stakeholders, and supporters/advocates.


Having recently had the privilege of participating in the 2018 MLA conference, as well as in all 4 of the regional annual foreign language education conferences — NECTFL, SWCOLT, CSCTFL, and SCOLT — presenting on foreign language advocacy at 3 of the 4 the regional conferences, and participating as part of a panel discussion on college foreign language requirements at MLA, I have had the opportunity to speak with, and to listen to and learn from, foreign language educators and advocates from across the country in the days and weeks immediately preceding and following the release of the report.

I firmly believe that it is time to act — within our professional associations at all levels, and as individual change agents in alignment with our core beliefs and values, and within our local context.

What is needed is “a sense of urgency.” (Kotter, 2008)

While the current issue of the MLA Newsletter is available online to members only, the following  articles are freely available:

Foreign Language Enrollments Drop Sharply

Enrollment in Most Foreign Language Programs Continues to Fall 

Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education

Languages do matter!


Kotter, John P.  A Sense of Urgency. New York: Harvard Business Press, 2008.

MLA Newsletter.



An Exploration of the Irish Presence in the Published Record

“The Irish Presence in the Published Record: How Many, What, When

The island of Ireland, though geographically small, enjoys an outsized global profile. Manifestations of “Irishness” are found around the world in many guises and varying degrees of authenticity, from Irish pubs to Irish festivals; from iconic brands like Guinness and Waterford Crystal to green-hued Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations; from Irish folk bands to Irish dancing. According to Wikipedia, there are 20 towns and communities named Dublin in the United States,8 stretching across the country from California to North Carolina. A Dublin can also be found in Australia, Canada, and Belarus.9

Both historic and contemporary emigration patterns contribute to the diffusion, and global interest, in Irishness. The Irish diaspora, in its most expansive definition—everyone with Irish ancestors—is thought to number more than 100 million people.10 In the United States, more than 10 percent of the population claim Irish ancestry.11 The Irish diaspora, noted The Irish Times, “is a unique reservoir of goodwill, support, and ‘soft power.’”12 In 2014, the Republic of Ireland installed its first Minister for Diaspora Affairs, in recognition of the “special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share [Irish] cultural identity and heritage.”13

The global interest in Ireland and Irishness inspires curiosity about the Irish presence in world literature and other types of creative output.”

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Languages do matter!

Kathy Presenting at the CSCTFL Conference in Milwaukee

I am honored to have presented at the historic 50th CSCTFL conference in Milwaukee on Friday, which I attended as both a presenter and member of the Advisory Council.

CSCTFL 2018 03-09-18 6

I presented on “Foreign Language Advocacy: Empowerment of Learners in a Globalized World,” a topic that is more important than ever, and a core value that drives my research, writing, and speaking.

The conference program had great depth, offering so many interesting choices during each session period. I attended interesting and informative workshops on virtual travel, increasing use of the target language in class, and developing curiosity about culture.

I visited the busy and well-attended exhibit area, housed a beautiful ballroom setting, and stopped the chat with friends at the AATF table.

The conference venue, in both the historic hotel and the spectacular Wisconsin Center, was impressive, and the exceptionally attentive and helpful tech support staff were greatly appreciated as well.

On a personal note, as always, I felt at home immediately due to the warmth and friendliness of both conference organizers and my fellow participants. I was also pleasantly surprised to see less snow in Milwaukee than in North Jersey!  🙂

Many thanks to the conference organizers for having invited me to present, congratulations to  CSCTFL on a wonderfully successful 50th anniversary conference, and best wishes for continued success.

Languages do matter!

25,000 views for Language Matters — Thank you all!

More than 25,000 views for Language Matters — Thank you all!

It has been a wonderful experience thus far, and I look forward to continuing our conversation on “language matters.”

Languages do matter!

11 American presidents who mastered second languages

“Here are 11 commanders-in-chief who could speak another language (and two honorable mentions).”

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Languages do matter!