Guest Post: Why Educational Leadership Needs to Stand Behind Language Education

Adding to this blog’s discussion about language education is Roslyn Tam. This post discusses the importance of language education for students. Roslyn is a regular contributor at

English is the worldwide language of business and academics. Even though there are more native speakers of Mandarin Chinese than native speakers of English, English has more non-native speakers than any other language, and Mandarin is not used as a lingua franca between nations in the same way as English.

Due to this fact, many people in the United States and other English-speaking nations have become apathetic about learning languages other than English; and educational institutions have become lax about teaching world languages. This problem is compounded by the fact that many educational leadership programs are preoccupied by falling test scores and reorganizing districts after school closures.

The general attitude is that, since students in the United States already speak the most valuable language in the world, educational institutions should focus on helping students to develop skills in other areas, such as mathematics. However, this misconception is hurting the prospects of young people in the United States and educational leadership must try to find a way of reversing this trend.

One of the first things that critics of language education efforts in the United States need to realize is that the primacy of English as the global language is waning rather than waxing. This can be seen in the meteoric rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey) economies. These are all non-English-speaking countries with large populations and rapidly growing economic strength. With the United States having become a country that produces MBAs instead of engineers, it would only make sense that education in the United States would focus on teaching these future managers and world leaders to communicate in other languages.

However instead, MBA graduates go out into the world with the expectation that everyone in these rising markets will speak to them in English. While the arrogance of this expectation has been largely understandable in the past, it will not remain so for much longer. According to one British Council report, by 2050, Spanish will have overtaken English for the #2 slot after Mandarin Chinese, and English will be on about the same level as Arabic. With the rise of other economies, particularly China,  to challenge the United States as the world’s chief economic force, English’s place as the world language of business will be seriously challenged.

Something that educators and policy makers in the United States need to bear in mind is that virtually every nation in the world with a respectable economy outperforms the United States when it comes to multilingualism. For instance, according to a 2006 report by the China Post, 40% of all students in Taiwan start learning English from preschool age. In South Korea, students are required to start learning English during their third year of elementary schooling. People in the United States may see this as a flattering example of the importance of English in the world sphere, but they must remember that as these countries gain global clout, the fact that they have already fostered a culture of multilingualism will make it even more difficult for the United States to compete with them economically in the future.

Many of the arguments against better language education in the United States center on resources. Critics feel that teaching students Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, or German from a young age is a misuse of resources. However, one thing that we should bear in mind is the fact that the advent of computer-based and Internet-based education has taken much of the cost out of language education. Schools do not necessarily even need foreign language teachers, they can take advantage of software tools such as Rosetta Stone and Fluenz or get students involved in language exchange programs with students overseas.

To keep the United States competitive in the world sphere and help American students become competitive personally, educators must consider new methods and approaches if necessary,  but foreign languages must be taught.


Honest Language Lessons: Русский

Honest Language Lessons: Русский.

I’ve never just reposted someone’s post and I’ll admit I was curious to see what the ‘Press This’ button does exactly. (Pretty much what it says on the tin…)

The Greenery is a wonderful blog and I adore this post.  It also fits in to my current thoughts on adult language learning. If I can ever work through this block, more will be posted. In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful post!

Am I smarter than a [Thai] fifth grader?

The short answer is no.

I’ve been studying the Thai alphabet for the last 4 weeks. Thai has a lot of letters.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:


  • There are 44 consonants
  • Only 42 are now in use. I still haven’t understood what happened to the other two, and given all the things I am trying to assimilate, I am just having to let go of this one.
  • The consonants are broken down into 3 groups: Middle Class, High Class and Low Class.
  • Some consonants have totally different sounds at the start and end of words—if you can figure out where they end since there is no spacing between words.


  • I think there are 32 of them.
  • The first point isn’t exactly true. There are 28 vowel forms (no don’t ask me what that actually means as I can’t tell you) and 4 tone marks.
  • I only know 24 at the moment, and of those, 12 are short and 12 are long.

The difference between short and long:

goal by Alan Rossiter via Flickr

Unlike English vowels,  short and long in Thai don’t refer to types of sounds but the actual length of time you say a vowel. An  example would be a British football sports commentator shouting:


vs. a Latin presenter shouting:


In English, irrespective of the length, the word has the same meaning. Not so with Thai.

And since I’ve decided to  harp on this topic, in my quest to figure out how many vowels Thai has, I came across a great response on a language chat board:

 I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. In English there are 5 vowel characters ( a e i o u and sometimes y) (“AAaa!! Some people say there are 5 vowel characters in English and others say 6 … etc.” :-) But anyway, there’s a lot more vowel sounds than just those 5 (or 6) because you can combine them to form words like “ceiling” which might as well be spelled “ceeling” or “sealing” or so don’t kid yourself kids.

NOT ONLY THAT, but the sound of the vowel very much depends on the consonants in the word too. Getting scared? You will be: a in “hat” is hardly the same as a in “later”. There are dozens and dozens more.

At least in Thai when you see a vowel (or vowel combination) YOU KNOW what it’s gonna sound like. :-) 28 vowels really means 28 sounds. No hidden charges, no small print.


Cheers Chanchao wherever you are. This is a brilliant point and it is one of the reasons learning to write Thai actually helps beginners master the pronunciation.

If you are scratching your head at this point, you will understand why I decided to take an extended break from my lessons when our future in Thailand was temporarily up in the air.

Now that we are definitely staying—Yay—I need to get back to the books, and sounding out basic letter combinations like a first-grader. The road ahead is long and steep but I’ve invested in some good orthopedics and crampons.

Karambolage: Factoids and Language Learning Bliss

Karambolage: Factoids and Language Learning Bliss via Slate.

Forget naff exchanges about the weather and where the bank is located. These dull as dishwater language basics may be tried and tested, but the end result, as far as I can tell, is a big fat FAIL.

Instead, check out this fabulous program Karambolage. It is made up of superb animations and covers fascinating topics like the origins of Cordon Bleue or how bunnies and eggs became associated with easter.

Drawbacks? You need to sit patiently through the annoying 40 seconds of disco beats and a dismembered head floating around a black screen. Seems like a short amount of time but trust me when I tell you it feels like an eternity. (Disclaimer: part of this could be my sucky wi-fi connection). It is also only available in French and German.