The dearth of emphasis on foreign languages in American schools is no secret. The American education system's seeming lack of interest in teaching second languages can make a foreign language instructor's job tough. Despite this challenging environment, one Boulder German teacher took it upon herself to make sure her students were engaging as much as possible with foreign languages.
On February 24th, Paula Blum will be awarded an Innovation Grant from the Colorado Congress of Foreign Language Teachers. The congress was started in 1947 with the specific goal of encouraging and strengthening the study of foreign languages in schools.
Boulder's Shining Mountain Waldorf School is the only school in the country to broadcast an hour-long radio program in German for the online station "Deutschradio24sieben," and they're planning to broadcast another in Spring. The program aired before Christmas carrying an Advent theme and geared at helping listeners learn German.
"When you learn another language, it gives you access to another world. It opens the door to another culture and helps you to understand and appreciate people from other countries," Blum said. "It gives you more flexibility in thinking, a greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening. It also improves your understanding of your own language."
While it's true that Waldorf schools already have a strong German history--they were started by German-Austrian Rudolf Steiner--it's also true that the German language is dwindling in popularity in some local high schools. Boulder's Fairview High School is currently phasing out their German classes and Denver North High School currently offers Chinese but no German.
"A couple of years ago when I asked an administrator at Fairview why they weren't continuing with German they said that the global market needs Chinese," Blum said. "However, German is extremely important to the global market. Germany is the largest telecommunications market in Europe and the third largest worldwide. Germany is at the forefront of architectural, industrial and automotive design. German is the second most frequently used language on the internet after English. In banking and finance, Germany is one of the top five sources of foreign direct investment in the U.S."
The extra practice Blum's class did for their broadcast debut paid off in students' interests to continue studying German, Blum says. Student and parent interests in studying abroad or at least continuing German lessons has grown in her class since producing the program.
"They were motivated by the fact that there was a very real reason for their producing the work and there was a crucial deadline," Blum said.