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CCRI participating in group to encourage younger students to learn a foreign language
Aug. 10, 2012
A bilingual workforce is desirable for Rhode Island businesses that increasingly have partners and operations overseas, said Community College of Rhode Island Foreign Languages and Cultures Department Chairwoman Deborah Notarianni-Girard.
Notorianni-Girard is a member of the Rhode Island Language Summit, a group representing government, business and public education in the state that recommends much earlier foreign language immersion in public schools. The group unveiled a Roadmap plan at the State House last month that calls for the majority of Rhode Island high school graduates to be proficient in English and at least one other language by 2030.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, University of Rhode Island President David Dooley and others attended the State House event.
Notarianni-Girard has been a member of the Language Summit since it was convened in December 2011 and represented CCRI at the Summit’s working groups. She was one of 56 people chosen to represent K-12 schools, higher education, local businesses and hospitals, and public service organizations such as RIPTA, the R.I. Economic Development Corp. and many others.
“I feel that this is extremely important,” she said. “The younger we start our students learning a language the easier it becomes for them.” She added that job applicants with a bilingual credential are often more desirable.
A key provision of the Roadmap is the establishment of a pilot program between at least one elementary, middle and high school in which students will receive daily classroom instruction half in English and half in a language chosen based on local demographics. Students will study this language continuously throughout their school career.
Other recommendations of the Roadmap include incentive programs to train and employ more foreign language teachers and the creation of a Rhode Island Center for Language Teaching, Learning and Culture. This would be housed at the University of Rhode Island and co-managed by Rhode Island College and CCRI. The center would “promote world language learning and cultural competency at government, education and business levels” according to The Rhode Island Roadmap to Language Excellence Report.
Notarianni-Girard said that earlier exposure to foreign language education will help students later in their academic careers. At CCRI, she said, some students are intimidated about taking a foreign language course “… and I think starting earlier would probably get rid of those fears.”
She added that people first given foreign language instruction in elementary school could be fluent by high school or college. “It becomes a life skill,” she said. “It becomes an integral part of [students’] lives.”
Notarianni-Girard said that, at the community college level, some students do not have the resources to travel abroad and put their language skills to use. Even so, she said that learning a language has many intellectual and cultural benefits.
“When you come into a language classroom you expand your mind and open it up to a different way of living and thinking,” she said.
The R.I. Language Summit is not the only organization to stress the need for foreign language learning. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations published a report cited by the creators of the R.I. Roadmap that says foreign language instruction should be a national priority.