Project Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe that my Fulbright officially ends tomorrow.  I’m writing this post as I get comfy waiting for DHL to pick up my extra luggage and carefully boxed bicycle (yes…I’m bringing it home!).  In many respects, my time here as flown by.  However, looking back at my first posts in January, those freezing days seem like a lifetime ago.  When I arrived here, I was excited to explore a new country and to get to know how foreign language education works.  I wasn’t sure what it would be like to try to complete a project in a place where I didn’t know anyone or have any connections.  A few of you have asked about my project and I’m happy (and relieved) to share with you that it is finished, written up, and turned in.

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I came to the Netherlands because the Dutch have a reputation for being excellent with languages. That reputation, paired with the European Union’s focus on increasing bilingualism and multilingualism inspired my project.  I wanted to  do two things while here:

  1. learn as much as I could about the way languages are taught
  2. find a way for language teachers to have more opportunities to dialogue and collaborate

To accomplish goal number one, with the guidance of my advisor, Professor Marjolijn Verspoor at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, I came up with a plan to observe lots of class of the most commonly taught languages in the Netherlands: English, French, German, Latin, and Ancient Greek.  I was also really interested in learning what Dutch students’ thought about their study of a foreign language.  To satisfy my curiosity in this area, I created and administered a student survey.

To tackle goal number 2, I set out to develop an online community for language teachers to promote global collaboration and sharing of best practices.

I felt pretty confident in my ability to learn about foreign language teaching here through observation.  Over the years, I have enjoyed lots of time in language classrooms.  However, goal number 2 gave me pause.  I have good basic computing skills and really enjoy using technology, but, I have no actual training beyond the mandatory typing class that I took in 7th or 8th grade.

During my time here I visited 12 different schools, some of them only once, others on several occasions.  I saw more than 50 foreign language classes taught by lots of different teachers.  I surveyed about 320 students regarding their thoughts on language study.  Overall, it was a very interesting experience.  I had the opportunity to present my findings at a conference last month in Sarajevo and also at the Dutch Ministry of Education a couple of weeks ago.  My advisor and I have co-authored a paper that, fingers crossed, will be published in the coming months.

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Presenting at the Ministry of Education

While I was doing the school visits, I was also working on the online community.  I thought about what I wanted it to look like, investigated what platform I could use to achieve what I wanted, and eventually started putting it together.  Building this online community involved a healthy dose of frustration.  Every step of the way, I encountered something that I wanted to be able to do, but couldn’t work out how.  Luckily, the platform I chose has a pretty active support forum.  I was a frequent requester of help in this forum!  My questions revealed that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  Expert’s answers were generally incomprehensible and, therefore, required me to ask more questions until, at last, someone understood the depth of my ignorance and took pity on me.  Despite fearing the worst, I did manage to build the community, it is called LinguaConnect.  If you’re interested in seeing a bit more about it, check this presentation out.

Overall, I feel really happy with what I have accomplished in these 5 months.  It has been challenging at times, but I’ve learned tons and feel incredibly grateful for the experience.

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