Teaching Foreign Language is a Big Deal

uglyearlyI find myself having just returned from a very interesting symposium at Purdue University entitled “CIBER Doctoral Symposium on Foreign Language Pedagogy for the Business and the Professions.”  Wow, what a title!  No wonder people tease us academic folks!  But don’t let the title fool you.  It was a very interesting symposium, bringing together doctoral students in foreign language education and providing them with training in teaching business language.  I was invited to give some training in teaching business culture.  (BTW, the picture with with Greg Cutchin, the Managing Director of the CIBER at Purdue University.  We are at Harry’s, a local pub, and I’m still trying to figure out the whole “Go Ugly Early” thing!)

As to learning foreign language, there were two guest speakers that I wanted to mention.  The first was Quinn Frazier, the Director of Sales Operations and International Business Development at UPS and the second was Larry Ingraham, President of Ingraham & Associates, Inc. Both are North Americans who learned Japanese along the way.  Quinn Frazier first learned as a Mormon missionary and Larry Ingraham first learned while stationed in Japan in the Army.  What stuck with me was the enormous effect of how foreign language has shaped their lives.  In Mr. Frazier’s case, while working in Japan, his wife and children have all had the experience of experiencing Japanese culture, to the point that some children experienced cultural shock upon returning to the U.S.  In Mr. Ingraham’s case, to a large extent, the whole state of Indiana, and the presence of over 250 Japanese companies that have operations in Indiana, including the Suzuki’s auto factory, are all directly tied to the impact of one former U.S. soldier who was stationed in Japan and who decided he wanted to learn a little Japanese.  For one the impact was extremely personal, for the other the personal experience has had enormous impact on thousands of people.

Here is a partial list of Mr. Ingraham’s suggestions for language learners.

1.  As a non-native speaker you will always make mistakes!  Accept it!  It is okay to make mistakes.

2  The point is to successfully communicate your thoughts to the other person… It doesn’t matter if it is not grammatically perfect.  You will improve.

3.  Practice language OUT LOUD!  Silent study doesn’t work.

4.  Keep a notebook for new words learned, and mistakes you have made with their corrections.

5.  Don’t get hung up on WHY something is so with grammar.  Just understand it is “correct” and use it.

6.  Why do you think we have two ears and one mouth?  We should listen twice as much as we talk.

The whole symposium left me with a sense of the privilege it is to teach foreign languages.  Thanks to all of you at Purdue University and thanks to all of the doctoral students who participated in the conference.



6 Responses to “Teaching Foreign Language is a Big Deal”

  1. Tommy Says:

    I’m wondering if they talked about the future of business English at the symposium as well. I have found that “communication”, in all its verbal and nonverbal meanings, is sometimes easier among non-native speakers of business English than between a non-native speaker and a native speaker. Business English then becomes a kind of foreign language which native speakers can struggle with.

    An example may be in group presentations. Both a fluent, native speaker with little knowledge of the audience and a poor non-native speaker may equally struggle with transmitting ideas well. In other words, English presenters with native-speed, perfectly pronounced and otherwise beautiful English are sometimes too good to be understood. Likewise, a non-native speaker struggling with flow, grammar mistakes, poor pronunciation, and probably nerves will not make a positive impact.

  2. Tamara Says:

    I am once again thrown into the “working world” and realize that speaking a foreign language is a pretty cool skill to have. So I will take this advice and try to pick up studying and mostly speaking outloud, and not worry about my mistakes.

  3. Jailer Sanchez Says:

    I want to thank Orlando for this opportunity.
    Teaching Foreign Language is more than language; as Orlando said, it is’a Big Deal’.
    Teaching a Foreign Language is always a new way to start walking into another world. You always get surprise when you study, read or see how the people behaves in many different ways in front the same situation.
    Teaching a Foreign Language is an adventure where you are learning every time.
    Teaching a Foreign Language, you always, always, will be young.
    Enjoy Teaching Languages!

  4. John Fotheringham Says:


    I just stumbled upon your blog. Excellent stuff all around! I especially like Mr. Ingraham’s list of learning tips.

    Over the past year, I have been interviewing polyglots, descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive) linguists, and language learning enthusiasts for my site Foreign Language Mastery (http://languagemastery.com). It’s good to find yet another language enthusiast with such a playful (and effective!) approach to language learning.

    Despite there claims to the contrary, the “grammar mavens” and “language perfectionists” still hold sway over the vast majority of language learners, and it is good to see those like you fighting the good fight!

    If you are available in the next week or two, I would love to interview you for my podcast series. Please let me know if you are interested.


    John Fotheringham
    Foreign Language Mastery

  5. John Fotheringham Says:

    Oops, that should read “their claims”. Oh no, does this make ME a grammar perfectionist!?

  6. Orlando Says:

    Hi everyone,
    You’ll note that I have added John Fotheringham’s blog to my blogroll. Really interesting observations and cool interviews too. Worth checking out.

    John, I’d be happy to get together for some more talking about language learning. Back at you soon.

    Jailer, you are going to go far, what a great start you have.

    Tamara, right, nothing like confronting real issues at work to motivate you to get your Spanish down. Especially as a physical therapist assistant in Texas, you are going to have a million chances to learn Spanish.

    Tommy, you remind me of a time when I attended an international marketing conference in Barcelona. I was about the only native speaker of English in a conference of over 100 people. It was amazing to see the use of English as the lingua franca when I was the only native speaker in the whole group.

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