As you may have seen in our newsletter or on our website, we are reaching out to language professionals around the country to join the Language Leadership Council. Our museum president, Greg Nedved, recently interviewed our Minnesotan liaison, Kathy Olson-Studler, of the NNELL (National Network for Early Language Learning). Please take a look at what Kathy had to say about her language work and advocacy.
What is your foreign language background?
As a young child of Swedish heritage, besides English spoken in our household, my parents and grandparents introduced me to the Swedish language at a very early age through oral storytelling, reading books to me, singing, and conversation. Later, I studied Spanish in MS/HS and both French and Spanish throughout college and beyond. I studied abroad in both Guadalajara, Mexico and in Madrid, Spain during my college years and for graduate school. I earned my BA in Spanish/French with distinction from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Mn, and a MA in Spanish and World Language education also from the University of Minnesota and the University of Complutense de Madrid, Spain. I taught Spanish and French for 10 years at Plymouth Middle School, and later taught Spanish for 38 years at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, grades 2-12, spending the vast majority of my time teaching grades 3-5. I also taught early language methodology at the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota. It was a great joy and learning experience to work abroad for 18 summers in Spain and Mexico teaching in a Spanish immersion program and leading groups of students throughout Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and France to experience the language, culture and history of these nations. I was fortunate to work as the director of Research and Development for a student travel company, in addition to my teaching during the year. I developed innovative programs of travel and study abroad in Mexico, Spain, France, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Greece.
As a language teacher at PMS, I traveled with my Middle school students to Mexico annually. While teaching Spanish to elementary aged children at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, I initiated and coordinated a reciprocal, in-person exchange for 5th graders together with a private school in Guadalajara, Mexico for thirty years. That exchange program continues to this day. These exchanges gave students opportunities for real-world use of the languages they were studying and motivation to want to keep improving. It was very joyful and rewarding to witness student’s proficiency and intercultural competence increase as a result of these cross-cultural exchanges. All students in the school benefited from the exchange. The community-building between the students, teachers, administrators, and parents in both Mexico and Minnesota has been very heart-warming and impactful.
Language is such a gift we give to children. The spark can last a lifetime–as evidenced in my own personal case.
Please give some background about NNELL to our readers.
NNELL is a professional organization whose mission is to foster a network that empowers educators to advocate for and support early language teaching and learning and whose vision is that every child deserves the opportunity to learn another language at the earliest age possible.
NNELL’s motto is to Advocate, Collaborate, and Educate others about the importance of early language learning. Its audience is primarily language professionals from all languages taught in the United States, Pre-K to 8th grade– however, NNELL also has many members who are also high school language teachers, administrators/ supervisors, and parents. We have also attracted an increasing number of international members as well because of our outreach on social media.
NNELL is a dynamic, professional organization that prioritizes building community among NNELL members and liaisons– as well as envisioning an even more expansive network in every region in the USA and internationally.
How did you get involved with NNELL?
I became involved in NNELL in 1987 when the organization was first founded as I was the only language teacher in the primary school of St. Paul Academy and Summit School where I founded the Spanish early language program and developed the curriculum K-5 beginning in 1981. I wanted to join forces with like-minded professionals who were equally passionate about teaching early language students. In 1997 I was appointed the Minnesota State Rep. for NNELL and in 2012, I was appointed the NNELL Central States Regional Rep. representing 13 states– a position I still hold to this day. I truly enjoy making connections with others and helping others make connections. I also currently serve on the NNELL Communications and Networking Committees, and as the co-editor of the monthly NNELL E-Newsletter. These are very creative endeavors which allow me to connect and network with an even greater number of outstanding language professionals in early language education throughout the nation and to amplify their voices and talents. We endeavor as editors of the NNELL E-Newsletter to include the diverse voices and perspectives of members in all regions in the USA and internationally.
What is the biggest challenge NNELL faces?
One of the biggest challenges for NNELL is creating an awareness among the public that being a NNELL member is for anyone who truly cares about and is committed to the importance of early language learning. We are all in this together — including educators at all levels, supervisors, and parents.
NNELL is a volunteer organization and educators involved sometimes find themselves stretched between their professional duties and volunteering for this very progressive organization– especially during the time of the pandemic– due to additional responsibilities. However, given these challenges, I have also noted that educators need to collaborate and they need each other. Our bonds have gotten stronger as a result of regularly meeting for professional development opportunities and we’ve even expanded the NNELL network internationally.
What innovations involving NNELL have come from COVID?
As a result of the pandemic, NNELL has been actively engaging members through the use of Zoom to create exciting virtual meet-up times for the Executive board and Regional Reps. and PD for all members, including a Summer Summit and PD on a given Saturday throughout the spring.We also held a Leadership Summit with Regional and State Reps, and Executive board members. We have found it to be so convenient, and time-saving, to meet up over Zoom– embracing people from all regions in the USA and internationally– all the while promoting the mission and vision of NNELL, providing relevant and meaningful professional development opportunities, and creating great community among our members through the use of the breakout rooms to discuss and share creative ideas and best practices– as well as give each other support.
What has NNELL learned from the experiences of other nations?
I was honored to have been invited to a webinar recently including educators from Barcelona, Spain and some states in the USA to discuss what each has learned from teaching/learning during the pandemic. The biggest takeaway was centered on social emotional learning (SEL) and how much it meant to students when the teacher took the time to create and continually foster community among them. Additionally, educators from both countries emphasized ways to relate personally with those who were struggling and needing greater attention at times. Teachers helping students to create even greater resilience through this pandemic was another topic of high interest. Finally, recognizing the importance of taking time to collaborate and socialize with colleagues, and practice self-care — all imperative activities in order to continue supporting our individual communities.
NNELL has been taking time to build relationships with our members and we have found that networking has been essential to our well-being and growth mind-set and has served as a consistent model for teachers to be more mindful of taking the necessary time for social emotional learning with their students during COVID and beyond.
How can the National Museum of Language best support NNELL?
NML can best support NNELL by promoting the mission and vision of the organization–and including our website in their newsletters for early language educators, administrators, supervisors, and parents to explore more in depth. The NNELL website:www.nnell.org, includes a link to our vast resources available to those who are interested in learning more.
NML can also support NNELL by informing us about relevant and meaningful resources for early language learners Pre-K to 8th grade on the virtual website of the NML on a regular basis.
What second languages would you recommend to parents for their children to learn at early ages?
Any language is an important learning experience–whether it be a heritage language spoken at home, as in my case, or other common languages that are easily accessible, and taught at the primary level such as Spanish, French, German and Chinese– all are great starting points for many children. It opens up their world and sparks their curiosity to learn other world languages. Learning another language as a child has so many benefits academically, personally, and professionally throughout one’s life.
How many languages should parents ideally seek for their children to learn at any early age?
My advice is that it is empowering for children to learn one language well in order to consolidate their learning– before adding a second and third language. Exposure to other cultures allows for opportunities for real-world communication, which plays a huge role in children’s motivation and curiosity for gaining proficiency in multiple languages. Parents play an important role in supporting their children learning other languages by modeling interest in learning, traveling, and providing cross-cultural encounters. Our two children learned three languages simultaneously growing up in Minnesota: French, Spanish, and English, as my husband is from France and I was a Spanish/French teacher. My daughter went on to learn Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese while working/studying abroad.
Why should a parent want to start their child learning a world language at an early age?
There are so many benefits of a child learning another world language at an early age–including increasing cognitive skills like problem-solving, decision-making, critical thinking, and listening skills, developing confidence and motivation as children grow their communicative proficiency in real-world situations, gaining increased respect, understanding, acceptance, and tolerance for cultural differences, and developing curiosity to learn other languages and about other cultures of the world. Language is such a gift we give to children. The spark can last a lifetime.
What do you think should be the role of a language museum (such as the National Museum of Language)?
- To foster curiosity and awareness of other languages and cultures.
- To promote the study of languages across one’s lifespan in order to keep cognitively sharp and engaged in cross-cultural communication.
- To promote greater awareness of the beauty of world languages.
- To understand, value, respect, and honor cultural differences as well as similarities in our multicultural and multilingual world so we continue to strive for global solidarity, understanding, and a peaceful co-existence.
What other points do you wish to make in this interview?
My passions include promoting early language learning and teaching, making global connections for students, and encouraging them to explore the world of language through immersive experiences and extensive travel abroad in order to continuously hone their language skills and intercultural competence. Both of these skills will help us meet the communication needs of our increasingly interconnected world.
I love the concept of the National Museum of Language as it will foster curiosity of other languages and cultures with people of all ages. It is equally important to promote the museum with both educators and parents on the importance of early language and intercultural learning.
It is so empowering for students to earn the Seal of Biliteracy for their efforts to grow their proficiency levels and be formally recognized as increasingly valuable world citizens who are ready to engage in the global workforce— using their language skills for work as well as for personal enrichment.