Evan Hierholzer, Managing Editor
Marisa Perez-Bernardo, associate professor of Spanish at the University of Dallas, was recently selected as an expert foreign-language advisor for the Texas State Board of Education in its development and review of the Languages Other Than English (LOTE) curriculum for primary and secondary public schools throughout the state of Texas.
The process began last summer when Perez-Bernardo applied for a volunteer advisory position, was interviewed and then accepted as one of two language experts to be consulted by the Texas State Board of Education in Austin, Texas. While the other expert advised the board regarding sign language, Perez-Bernardo served as the consultant for both modern and classical languages.
In her presentations to the board, Perez-Bernardo emphasized the need for further foreign-language education in American schools. Her proposal would extend the current, standard high-school requirement of two credits in LOTE to four.
“I really think it is important to implement foreign languages [beginning] in kindergarten,” said Perez-Bernardo. “Of course it is very hard to change the whole [curriculum]. I do not know if they are going to take into consideration my proposal of having foreign languages for four years.”
Part of the motivation behind this extension of LOTE study is to balance Texas curriculum, which, according to Perez-Bernardo, is heavily weighted in favor of sciences and English language and literature.
“[The committee does] not even see the importance of social studies, humanities,” she said. “I explained that I was teaching at the University of Dallas, and that this is a very important aspect [of education]: the whole study of humanities and foreign languages in order to better understand culture and civilization.”
Emphasizing the importance of the study of languages other than English, Perez-Bernardo cited factors of foreign-language study that directly affect the student.
“First, in Texas, Spanish is very important because of all of the immigration, but another aspect is that it is, in some cases, through the study of foreign languages or classical languages where you start studying grammar, studying … syntax, understanding basic linguistics,” she said.
Because we live in a multicultural, globalized society, Perez-Bernardo emphasized, the study of foreign languages is even more important.
She explained that with respect to the study and teaching of foreign languages, Europe implements more extensive requirements than does the United States.
“My whole education was in Spain … [I studied the] mother language, plus I studied classical languages; I had English, Latin and Greek,” said Perez-Bernardo.
Additionally, as part of her studies, Perez-Bernardo was required to study German.
“It seems to me that in the United States, people are monolingual. There is not an appreciation of foreign languages,” she said.
Perez-Bernardo further observed that virtually all European politicians must, of necessity, know, in addition to their native tongues, English and French, the languages of European community.
In addition to stating the need for further foreign-language study in Texas schools, Perez-Bernardo also addressed the committee, which included Texas senator and chair of the Texas Senate Committee on Education, Dan Patrick, regarding preferred methodologies for LOTE instruction. Such methodologies should incorporate the language’s cultural context, according to Perez-Bernardo.
“I explained … the importance of culture within the language, and it is something we do here at UD in second-year Spanish II. Foreign language should be taught always with the literature, history, history of art, and politics of the country of the target language.”
Perez-Bernardo thinks such contextual, cultural education can provide the American student with more than simply a lesson about foreign civilizations.
“It is very important for Americans to study the language and also the culture … behind the language, in order to have a different appreciation of – a better appreciation of – your own country.”
Perez-Bernardo will return to Austin in October for further discussion and review. The Texas State Board of Education will make decisions regarding LOTE curriculum in November, and the decisions will be published in January of 2014.