Lynn Fulton-Archer never intended to teach. Studying in Spain, she hoped to pursue a career in international business or become a Spanish interpreter. But after taking a Spanish teaching job at a private school, she was hooked.
"It's the joy that you see on a kid's face when they realize they understand something they didn't previously understand," she said.
Last month Fulton-Archer, a Spanish teacher at Richmond Drive Elementary in Rock Hill, was named Foreign Language Teacher of the Year by the S.C. Foreign Language Teachers' Association.
During her 18-year career, she has taught middle and high school Spanish for S.C. Educational Television. She used a federal grant to create a distance learning elementary school world language program. She developed the units and taught all of the taped Spanish lessons of the series Kids Interacting Through Early Language Learning, used by schools across the state.
Fulton-Archer has served as president of the S.C. Foreign Language Teachers' Association and president of the S.C. chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. She is a member of the state committee that developed the modern and classical language standards.
Fulton-Archer talked with The Herald about teaching foreign language and how South Carolina can improve in that area.
Is there evidence that learning a foreign language directly affects student achievement?
There is. There are decades of research, some of it conducted within the past few years, that document the benefits of learning a world language, particularly when learning another language starts at an early age. Students who learn another language develop creative inquiry and critical thinking skills, are better at solving complex problems, show improvement in the verbal and nonverbal skills that enhance overall performance, and perform as well as, or better than, their monolingual peers on standardized testing.
Does South Carolina put enough emphasis on foreign language instruction?
No. Data from the S.C. Department of Commerce shows that South Carolina is home to more than 1,000 foreign-affiliated companies and has the second highest percentage of workers employed by international-related businesses, second only to Hawaii. These numbers alone support the fact that we need to be creating a globally-competent work force.
To do so, instruction in world languages is an imperative. Students leaving our education system must have the ability to communicate in more than one language, understand and be able to successfully interact with other cultures and make connections between disciplines studied and situations encountered. Learning another language helps them do all of these things
How could the state improve?
South Carolina would do well to follow the lead of other states such as Kentucky which recently proposed that all students graduating from high school do so with a specific level of proficiency in both English and another language. ...
To accomplish this, the state needs to support long sequences of world language instruction for every child that begin in elementary school and continue through 12th grade, assist schools with the implementation of immersion programs that allow students to gain proficiency more quickly by spending at least 50 percent of the school day learning content in a second language, and form strong partnerships with other states where world language learning has been deemed a priority.
Richmond Drive is now a school of choice for foreign language, open to any student in the district. How do you hope to change and expand the program in the future?
Now that all students are learning a world language beginning in kindergarten, I'm hoping to make more connections between our students at Richmond Drive and Spanish-speaking students in other locations. I've already contacted several colleagues around the world about setting up Skype sessions between our students and am looking to set up pen-pal relationships between students or classes so that the work that our upper-grade students create is shared with a real audience. Ultimately I'd love to establish some sort of exchange program or travel opportunity for our fifth-grade students as a culminating event before they move on to middle school.
You're on a state committee that developed the modern and classical language standards and continues to participate in the development of support documents for these standards. Can you talk a little bit about the standards? What are they? Why are they important?
In the past, people associated world language instruction with a list of things that teachers taught and "covered," but little emphasis was placed on actually knowing how all of those things functioned and worked together.
This was much like teaching a mechanic the names and individual components of a car engine but never actually letting him work with the parts and see how each piece works together with the others to make the engine run.
Standards are all about what a student can do with what they have learned. Rather than a list of what the teacher covers, we now have a document that helps focus curriculum and instruction around the application of knowledge and what students can do after a certain amount of instruction. They are performance-based, help establish a partnership between teacher and student, and allow students to actually use the language they are learning in real-world contexts and situations. This helps build momentum and enthusiasm for continued language learning and helps educate others about realistic expectations of language programs.
What advice do you have for adults who want to learn a foreign language?
The best way for anyone to learn another language is to interact with speakers of that language. Community colleges often offer conversational language courses for adults via community interest programs and international / multicultural centers often offer classes, weekly chats, or other forums that connect English speakers and speakers of other languages. Adults can look online for free programs and sites as well. There are several sites that help you learn another language by teaching a mini-lessons in a language, giving you a task to complete, then allowing other speakers of the language to give you feedback on how you are doing! No matter what, interaction with real speakers of the language is key!