Foreign language learning: An imperative for vision 2030
Currently, the number of educators trained to teach a foreign language is dwindling.

In keeping with Vision 2030 Jamaica, which seeks to position the country to achieve developed country status by 2030, with the hope of making the country the place of choice to live, work, study, raise families, and do business, it is imperative that the development of second language learning continues in schools across the country.

Having bilingual citizens will create more job opportunities and attract investors to our country. Several countries within the European Union as well as the Nordic region have implemented targeted strategies to assist their students with second language acquisition, and they have witnessed great successes in their workforce. The time is now for us to adopt these techniques that will further enhance our students' language skills, prepare them to compete globally in a multicultural context, and promote internationalisation.

As a result of the interconnectedness of our societies, the need for second language mastery is of paramount importance. Due to globalisation, it is necessary for our students to at least be fluent in one other language. This can be a reality if our educators continue to implement effective teaching strategies in their classrooms in order to develop students' language skills and cultural and intercultural awareness and dispositions.

In 2016, the Ministry of Education implemented the National Standards Curriculum with an aim to, among other things, expose students to Spanish and French from the primary level. However, the paucity of trained teachers of foreign languages to undertake the tasks remain an elusive goal. Having pursued and obtained formal training at the university level, as a teacher of second language learning for over approximately a decade with teaching experiences in Colombia, Jamaica, and the USA, I have come to the realisation that there is a need to provide students with the opportunities and tools to hone their second language skills. Therefore, administrators, teachers, and students have to first see the relevance of studying a second language and make the necessary investments accordingly.

BENEFITS OF STUDYING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

As 21st-century learners, our students are called upon to possess, as global citizens, a growth mindset and an ability to demonstrate effective communication skills, flexibility, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities. By studying a foreign language students are given an opportunity to experience other cultures, which help with their cultural understanding and appreciation of diversity. College students who participate in the annual seasonal work and travel programme can attest to the fact that they have, on at least one occasion, been in a situation in which they have had to work with a Hispanic native or someone from a different cultural background. How beneficial would it be if they were to have a good command of the target language (Spanish in this case) when working in that shared space? Jamaica relies so heavily on tourism; therefore, it is time we tap into our students' capabilities to learn another language so that they can be the ones occupying these jobs in this sector.

IMPROVING FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING

In light of the above-mentioned, I encourage the use of three strategies that have proven effective in addressing the matter of developing students' competencies and awareness in foreign language learning. These strategies are collaborative grouping, technology integration, and cultural immersion.

If we are committed to improving the educational settings for second language learners, then collaboration and co-teaching must become part of the process. Collaborative activities tend to build a community of learners by engaging them in discussions, allowing students to work together towards a common goal, thus developing their interpersonal and leadership skills. Students are able to share these tasks among themselves in groups while building on each other's strengths during the process.

Collaborative grouping also enhances students' problem-solving, critical-thinking, and analytical skills. It even holds students accountable and provides an opportunity for diverse ideas to be shared. Providing students with an opportunity to interact and work with each other on assignments will improve their speaking skills in the target language. Collaborative learning is deemed to be an important strategy that, if implemented in a student-centred classroom, will yield results in language learning. This allows for the development of cultural diversity in the learning environment as well as students' intrapersonal and metacognitive strategies.

According to language educator Li Wang, "Technology integration in foreign language teaching demonstrates the shift in educational paradigms from a behavioural to a constructivist learning approach." Technological incorporation plays an integral role and has been utilised to better engage students with content information. Though technology and its applications have myriad challenges and pitfalls, one cannot undermine the benefits of its usage in the classroom and the positive impact that it can have on student learning. As advances in technology drive globalisation, teachers have to help students in acquiring the necessary skills needed to succeed.

Incorporating technology in our daily instruction fulfils the engagement aspect of the 5E instructional model, which is encouraged in the National Standards Curriculum. Teachers may incorporate several online applications to keep students engaged and make lessons fun and interactive. However, administrators and the Ministry of Education need to support schools in this plight and provide them with the resources and technological support.

Language and culture are intricately interwoven. I am, therefore, of the belief that cultural immersion should be a part of second language learning. Students ought to be exposed to the authentic experience of another language as best as possible.

During my years in high school, and even college, the modern languages department arranged cultural exchange trips/programmes for students to be immersed in Spanish cultures in countries such as Cuba, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. This cultural experience will prepare our students to have tolerance, empathy, and acceptance of others. Being culturally immersed gives them a competitive edge in career choices. With this in mind, it is prudent for the Government of Jamaica to start or renew dialogue with Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean and Latin America as a way to devise a plan in which students may visit these countries to explore and experience their rich cultures.

Admittedly, cultural immersion requires significant financial investment from both private and public sectors. If we are serious about our hope of having each educated Jamaican speak a foreign language by 2030, it is only wise for us to note the need for such an investment. Investing in our students now means that we are investing in our future.

Ryan Sweeney is a teacher of Spanish and a graduate student in bilingual education at American College of Education. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or ryansweeney65@yahoo.com

Jamaica's long-term goals would be well served by taking steps to develop a bilingual population.
Ryan Sweeney
Ryan Sweeney

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