A call for foreign language departments in all CNMI public schools


Editor’s Note: The following is an open letter to all agencies, organizations, their representatives, educational and workforce stakeholders, and other individuals attending the 2018 Education Summit.
I would like to call for the establishment of a foreign language department in all CNMI public schools. This department would be separate from and not interfere with the indigenous languages of Chamorro and Carolinian and their respective programs currently being funded and taught in CNMI schools.

The foreign language department, or FLD, would be in addition to and/or incorporated in the Kuder assessment career pathways being implemented by CNMI PSS, Northern Marianas Trades Institute, and Northern Marianas College. It would be used to assist identification of occupational and career trends and give students more productive and desirable job skills and abilities to bring to the workplace and ostensible college careers.

The six initial languages I suggest being taught are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, and Latin. The first three languages are obvious important languages to help CNMI students and workers entering into various aspects of our tourist industry. Tagalog is a language spoken by perhaps more than one third of our public school students and their families. Spanish is, of course, a Romance language and there is  heavy borrowing from it in the family of Austronesian languages spoken here, Chamorro and Tagalog. Spanish is also offered in over 8,000 U.S. mainland high schools. Latin is of paramount importance and use in most science fields, medicine, and law.

According to a 2008 survey, 88 percent of language programs in U.S. elementary schools taught Spanish, compared to 93 percent in U.S. secondary schools. Other languages taught in U.S. high schools in 2008, in descending order of frequency, were French, German, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Italian, and Japanese.

The June 2017 National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey reports on the three West Coast states where most Chamorros live: in the state of Washington, 24 high schools offer Chinese, 32 offer Japanese; in the state of Oregon 12 high schools offer Chinese, 18 offer Japanese; and in California, 108 high schools offer Chinese and 49 offer Japanese. Interestingly, in Florida, where I don’t think there are many Chinese immigrant groups, over 7,000 students are studying Chinese. My guess is that is for tourist-related jobs, like Disneyland. The state of Massachusetts has 20,548 high schools students taking Latin. My guess there is the large number of universities in Massachusetts and Connecticut specializing in the fields of science, medicine, and law.

I’ll try and decrease bloviation here. Some suggestions:

Grades K-6 could be Friday enrichment, with short appropriate grade level lessons on culture, language, music, short counting songs, birthday, and animal songs. Middle and high schools grades 7 to 12 would have b basic oral conversation two or three times a week as an elective. FLD teachers could get “special contracts” as Chamorro and Carolinian teachers do. FLD teachers could teach at two different schools, say Monday and Wednesday at one high school and Tuesday and Thursday at another school. Fridays they could alternate back and forth for language labs and enrichment. Part-time positions could be offered. Every attempt should be made to hire from the community of local speakers of each respective language from people already here on Saipan, Tinian, or Rota. Latin would be the sole problem with that. 

The program could begin within the English department of each respective school and be headed in its inception by a teacher in that school who is already fluent in either Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, or Spanish. I have a feeling they are out there. Local businesses might offer a volunteer in a language for one semester at a time for a few hours a week. The classes themselves might be one or two semester courses, depending on upper grade level, career plans, and need or desire for a certain language elective.

Students could use a common online course in each respective language and half of each class period as an active language usage lab.

A positive note of confidence inserted here: I can just about guarantee that a solid one-year course in Chinese could result in a non-native speaker of Chinese reading a script written in “pinyin” (Chinese written using the English alphabet) to a group of tourists at a public place, at the beach, on a bus, or at the airport and they would be understood.

I hope this missive engenders some discussion that bears fruit and brings foreign language instruction into all CNMI PSS schools.

Xie xie, domo arigato, kom sahamnida, salamat po, muchos gracias, habeo tibi gratiam. Thank you.


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