Friday, August 1, 2014

First Week of School in the World Language Classroom

One of the activities I like to do the first week of school in my classroom is to ask my students, “Why are you studying a language?”  After they give honest answers such as:  “because I have to, so I can get into a good college, etc.”, I then ask them (in small groups) to come up with a list of why knowing another
language (Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, etc.) could be useful in the future.  We write the answers from each group on the board so they can see the list.  I emphasize the global economy and the importance of knowing another language for your job, so you can communicate with employees and clients from other countries.  I talk about the numbers of people in the world who speak the language that we are studying:

Chinese – 1151 million, China
French – 200 million worldwide, official language of 28 countries:  Belgium, Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Channel Islands, Comoros, Congo (Democratic Republic of), Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Québec (Canada), Rwanda, Sénégal, Seychelles, parts of Switzerland, Togo, Vanuatu
German – 166 million worldwide, Germany
Italian – 85 million worldwide, official language of Italy and Switzerland
Portuguese -  240 million, official language of PortugalBrazilMozambiqueAngolaCape VerdeGuinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe
Russian – 277 million, official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,  Russia, Tajikistan
Spanish – 500 million worldwide, 44 million in the US, official language of 20 countries:  Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela
Then I talk about how almost every adult that I know wishes they could speak more languages and not just a few words, but knew enough to really communicate.  I tell my students that some of them may marry someone who speaks another language or who has relatives who only speak another language and how valuable it is to be able to communicate with those people.  When the students go to college, they may have a roommate from another country.   Many of my former students have told me that they have had these exact experiences:   one had a roommate from Colombia and another married a Mexican man and used her Spanish to talk to her in-laws.
Learning a second language creates new pathways and connections in your brain, making it more flexible and thus, easier to learn other languages in the future.  They say that each language that you learn makes it exponentially easier to learn other languages.  I have found this to be true as I learned French and Spanish as second and third languages myself.
However, for me the most important reason for learning another language is the joy that you get from being able to interact with someone from another culture in their language.  As soon as I start speaking Spanish to a native speaker, they instantly become my friend and welcome me into their culture and family.  This has happened to me in grocery stores, at highway rest stops, on trains in Europe, etc.  You’d be surprised to know the stories that people will tell you and how helpful they are just because you are attempting to speak their language.  It’s an amazing experience!
Hope these tips help get your students excited about learning. This post was written by Sherry Schermerhorn.  Visit her store at:
**  In my store, there is a free self-evaluation tool for world language students to teach them how to be better language learners and to get them to be accountable for their own learning.  It’s a great tool to use at the beginning of the year and throughout the year.  Wishing you and your students a successful year in the classroom.
Happy teaching!
Hope these tips help get your students excited about learning. This post was written by Sherry
Schermerhorn.  Visit her store at:  


  1. Thanks for the nice tips. Chac Mool, the Spanish Language School in Costa Rica was developed in order to expand the horizons of the Spanish Language and make people understand the diverse culture of Spain which can be understood only through the understanding which comes from learning the native language and learning to communicate among and with locals.

  2. This is an interesting discussion to have at the beginning of the school year! It is always interesting to see what kinds of answers students come up with for why it is important to learn a new language. I like the idea of going through the various languages and pointing out how many countries speak that language. I think that would be eye opening for the students (and the teachers). You might be interested in some essential questions that I like to use in the WL class: You will notice that some of these go with different units, but some of them are great for the first day of school. Thanks for sharing this idea! Have a great year!:)


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