Thursday, April 12, 2007

Arlington public schools will begin teaching Chinese and Arabic this summer through a University of Maryland grant that promotes “undertaught, critical languages.”

The Northern Virginia school system was among 34 nationwide to receive a Startalk grant from the university’s National Foreign Language Center.

In conjunction with Northern Virginia Community College, Arlington will offer three-week courses to high school students who have no experience in either foreign language or are enrolled in Arabic I or Chinese I.

“As the world is evolving today, from a political and economic perspective, we need additional languages in order to interact with others in the world,” said Betsy Hart, associate director of the language center.

Education in foreign languages other than French, German or Spanish is in demand, but schools are having difficulty finding qualified teachers because of a national shortage.

“Chinese, especially, is exploding around the country in terms of schools … adding it to their language offerings,” said Marty Abbott, director of education for the Alexandria-based American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “It creates a demand, but if you don’t fill the classroom with highly qualified teachers, then you can’t sustain the program.”

That hasn’t been the case in Arlington, which offers Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin and Spanish, said Mary Ann Ullrich, supervisor of the school system’s foreign-language program.

“We’ve been lucky,” Mrs. Ullrich said, adding that a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College helps meet demands.

Students receive credit from their school and the community college for Arabic and Chinese classes, which are taught through the community college during the regular school year.

The University of Maryland’s language center also awarded Startalk grants to the community college and to the teaching council, which will work with Choate Rosemary Hall, a private school in Connecticut, said Ms. Abbott, a former foreign-language coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools.

Being fluent in a language doesn’t necessarily mean a person can teach it, she added.

“I couldn’t teach a class in English,” said Ms. Abbott, who taught Latin and Spanish.

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