This spring, a trio of Johns Hopkins professors is
planting the seeds of foreign language
learning at the Guilford Elementary-Middle School in
The pilot program, which started in January, features
full-time faculty from the Department of
German and Romance Languages and Literatures who are
teaching French and Spanish at a school that
previously had no foreign language component.
Fifteen students from the school are enrolled in the
program, which includes 90-minute Spanish
and French classes, held twice a week, and an innovative
foreign language laboratory that incorporates
elements of culture, conversation and technology.
Stephen Nichols, chair of the Johns Hopkins
department, said that the concept for the
program was pitched to him last spring by Beth Felder,
director of federal affairs at Johns Hopkins
and a resident of the Guilford neighborhood.
Felder, who sits on the board of directors of the
Greater Homewood Community Corp., had
already been involved with successful efforts to have a
playground built at the school, which is located
on York Road. When it came time to see what else the school
needed, its administrators said that a
lack of foreign language instruction placed the students at
a disadvantage, especially those seeking to
apply to the city's most competitive high schools, such as
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and
Baltimore City College.
Nichols said that Felder created just the opportunity
the department was looking for.
"For a number of years, I've felt that [the
department] could or should be more involved with
education in Baltimore City," said Nichols, the James M.
Beall Professor of French. "I knew we had
something to offer, but it's very difficult to gain a point
of entry. I thought it could not come from us.
It wasn't our place to parachute in a program. So, when
Beth came to us and said that the Guilford
school is interested in a foreign language program, I felt
that this is the moment when we could act."
To run the program and teach the classes, the
department secured Claude Guillemard, director
of the French language program; Ivette Gonzalez,
coordinator of intermediate Spanish; and Loreto
Sanchez-Serrano, director of the Spanish language program
and a specialist in computer-assisted
Guillemard teaches French on Tuesdays and Thursdays,
Gonzalez handles Spanish lessons on
Mondays and Wednesdays, and Sanchez-Serrano, the project's
coordinator, leads the Spanish
laboratory on Fridays. The foreign language instruction,
which is optional, is offered during the
school's resource period, when students can also choose to
learn music or art.
Sanchez-Serrano said that in designing the program,
she wanted to offer the students, ages 11
to 13, something intensive and interdisciplinary that would
also be fun and engaging.
The classes themselves focus on elements of
conversation and everyday language. Instead of
having to memorize reams of words or verb conjugations, the
students learn to read, write and speak
complete commands and sentences and interact with each
other in the foreign language, with
exercises such as role-playing a telephone conversation or
a chat-room discussion. The instructors also
employ visual tools, such as a Spanish-language DVD.
In the French laboratory on Friday, fluent
French–speaking residents and Johns Hopkins
students come into the classroom so that the middle
schoolers can interact with them and learn more
about French culture. For the final project, the students
will write a report that summarizes what
they have learned about French culture during the
The Spanish lab is set up similarly, except that for
the final project each student will design a
Web page that focuses on the Spanish-speaking country and
culture of the Spanish-speaking person
with whom they are interacting during the week through
Sanchez-Serrano said that she didn't want just to
replicate the type of instruction the
Homewood undergraduates receive because it won't work for
"For this age group, you want to have a story to tell.
The students react very well to that. You
also want to use exercises and concepts that are related in
some way to them and their lives, such as
the type of music they listen to," she said. "In general,
we wanted to expose them to another culture
not their own, and also have them be more understanding of
other cultures. We also want to keep
them entertained, and so far they seem very happy in class
and eager to learn."
Gonzalez said that the students came into the program
with no knowledge of a foreign language
and that they have embraced the class wholeheartedly. She
is also very pleased with their progress.
"These kids are just sponges," Gonzalez said. "They
are so open to learn, and once they learn,
say, the correct structure of a sentence or phrase, they
get it and repeat it without a problem. They
are learning a lot."
From day one, Gonzalez said, she wanted to reinforce
why learning a foreign language could be
"They are going to ask questions like, How is this
going to affect my life? or, Will learning a new
language make me different or make me less American? So
part of what I need to do is show why it is
important and how it can help you," she said. "Of course,
some just liked the prospect of having a
The department plans to offer the program at Guilford
again in the fall and expand it to include
Nichols said that in the future, the program could be
offered at other area schools. He adds
that other departments might also choose to follow their
"If this is successful, why stop at foreign languages?
Our colleagues in [another] department
could do something similar," he said. "I think this is a