Dear Decaturish – Superintendent’s Costa Rica trip could benefit students

Posted by Decaturish.com February 12, 2018

David Dude. Photo provided by City Schools of Decatur

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Dear Decaturish,

I understand why the public might be upset that our Superintendent is spending three weeks in Costa Rica. However, as a concerned parent and Second Language Acquisition researcher who was terribly disappointed with the reduction of Spanish instruction contact hours for our CSD children in grades K-5 at the peak of their language learning abilities, I still can say that I am very pleased to hear about the Superintendent’s language and culture immersion trip.

The Foreign Service Institute Guidelines inform us that it takes native English speaking individuals approximately half a year (or 575-600 hours) to learn Spanish at an Intermediate-Mid level (meaning you can express yourself and participate in conversations on familiar topics). Certainly, 120 hours (3 weeks of 40 hours per week) of instruction is not going to make Dr. Dude fluent. Yet language learning research shows that it is not just the level of proficiency learners attain, rather it is the struggle they face—having to grapple with communicating in a language that is not their own—that fosters intercultural competence. This trip will likely increase Dr. Dude’s intercultural competence and his empathy for the language learning process. Perhaps it will help him understand why our neighboring school districts are increasing early language learning and Dual Language Immersion programs.

I have heard much concern from parents over the K-5 cuts to Spanish instruction time due to their desire to have CSD continue to prepare our children for the increasingly global economy they will face. I am glad our Superintendent is willing to step outside the educational box that currently prioritizes STEM, his area of expertise. According to his account, this is a work trip. He is working to learn a new language and a new culture. He is likely stepping outside of his familiar box or comfort zone, and if he returns with a better understanding of the strong parent demand for meaningful language learning in our community then we will all come out the better for it.

These views expressed are my own and not a part of the university for which I work.

Best,

Paula Garrett-Rucks

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