One of the challenges world language programs often face is lack of student motivation. Students may doubt they will ever use the language they are studying, or ask why language study is even necessary. However, during a recent class trip to Paris, one of my students excitedly shared a personal discovery with me. After having asked for and understood directions to the nearest metro station in French, the student exclaimed “Hey Madame, this language thing really works!”
An essential ingredient to increasing motivation and excitement for world language study is world travel. Travel gives students a whole new perspective and world view that is difficult to achieve in the classroom alone. This generation of students is being called “the globals, because of an increased access to information that has created a heightened awareness of the world, yet how can they achieve a global perspective when sitting in a classroom? When the language they’re communicating in is spoken in countries hundreds and thousands of miles away?
I started traveling with students in 1991. The school board thought the trip was a great idea, but declined to sponsor the trip. I believed so strongly in the importance of world travel for students, I proceeded with the trip without the school’s sponsorship, and have never regretted my decision. When a new superintendent began his tenure in our district a few years ago, a school board member proudly introduced me to him at a football game as the “French teacher who travels with her students,” a title I wear with pride.
Leading 15 student trips to France and other European countries has been the highlight of my teaching career. My students all say that the trip was the pinnacle moment of their high school career, where French class and AP European History classes merged in a Venn diagram and came to life. Learning a language does not get more meaningful than the treasure chest of knowledge obtained through travel.
Our French language program tripled in size over my teaching career and I accredit this to our bi-annual ACIS travel program to France. Students had a myriad of opportunities on these trips to practice their French and absorb the culture. From ordering food in restaurants to haggling with locals at the flea market, students honed their language skills and experienced the magic of communication in a different language. Their journey led them to realize that “this language thing really works!”
How do you build excitement and motivation for world language study in your classroom? I encourage you to try traveling with students, broadening their horizons and yours, and creating global citizens prepared for the world of tomorrow.