Improving Teacher Language Proficiency

I’m pretty old.  I started teaching in 1994 long before my freshmen were born!  My daughter is a senior in my Spanish 4 class and I have seen 21 classes graduate before her.  It goes so fast!!

When I started teaching, I was a graduate of a 4 year program with no study abroad.  It was offered, but I didn’t know anyone who had ever done it.  It was kind of like a mythical semester.  I entered my classroom with what I guess was Intermediate Mid-High language proficiency at best (we didn’t test back then, just the subject matter exam).

I got by… but I didn’t feel comfortable and confident until I began to read for pleasure, watch TV and listen to music in Spanish, and TRAVEL so I could hear and use language to communicate!  I am an advanced speaker today but if I had had the right opportunities, it might have come sooner!

Teachers today are being asked to use 90% plus Target Language in the classroom… some of these are language minors who are teaching with low to mid intermediate skills… or even intermediate high just looking for the chance to bump their skills up to Advanced Low.  Its something I really have been concerned about as a language teacher!  How can we help all teachers feel comfortable using the target language to teach!  How about this:  Madrid is the ULTIMATE classroom!  And with the opportunity to specifically build proficiency while touring??? This is a great PD opportunity!

In the article, I read this: “We are hoping that these language teachers will improve their language skills and become more confident teaching in the target language – Spanish in this case,” said George Stewart, Director of Education at EF Education First. “Towards those ends, they will become more conversant with current idiomatic phrases, socio-cultural trends – things like fashion, education and business – as well as become adept at using the OPI method to help their students become more conversationally fluent. Not only do these programs offer a powerful learning and professional development experience, they also represent a rare opportunity for each teacher to expand their own professional network among like-minded language teachers.”

As educators, we don’t have normally have access to a program designed for US!  I always travel with my students, with my family, for conferences… but never somewhere to help ME develop things that I am excited to carry back to my classroom.  So I am going!  I am GOING!  I’m going to Madrid, maybe I’ll raise my proficiency… but what I care most about is the opportunity to bring back some powerful cultural connections that will benefit my students!  And I know others of you will want to come and we will all have a new network of teachers who are also focused on how they can increase proficiency and expose their classes to more culture!

If you’re still looking for some professional development this summer and you want to get it in the heart of Madrid, consider coming with me!!!


Author: senoracmt

I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas" and "Bananas" through Fluency Matters. In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas. I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design. In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience! You can reach me via email at senoracmt at

8 thoughts

  1. If only we were finished with school by June 20th! In New York state we aren’t done until the 24th, or I’d consider it!

  2. Way to go, Carrie! For French teachers, check for grants from the Cultural Services offices of the French government and consulates and for “stages pédagogiques” In Belgium and Canada. For exactly the same reasons as Carrie, I have used those summer programs to improve my own proficiency in French because I was never able to study abroad in high school or college. I taught for six years before having the opportunity through one of these scholarship programs to go on my own for my own language and cultural development. I have two more since then, the latest being in 2007. There are similar programs offered by various agencies for German, Japanese and Mandarin teachers as well. And we’re modeling that learning language is an ongoing process. And don’t hesitate to design your own experiences. After teaching for 21 years, I will finally have my first opportunity to spend time at a French high school during my spring break in just over a month and it’s in a part of France I have never visited so the learning will be amazing on all sides. I arranged this by working with the teacher of the class my students are corresponding with. I did something similar several years ago when we were corresponding with a school in Belgium.

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