There is a saying that “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” This philosophy rings true for the Palm Beach Day Academy World Languages Department who work each day to “cure monolingualism” through our Mandarin, French and Spanish programs.
This month, we are thrilled to highlight Upper Campus Spanish Teacher Elena Giudice in our “Faculty Friday” series. Mrs. Giudice, who herself grew up in a bilingual home, works tirelessly each day to help her students develop an appreciation and passion for foreign languages.
Stay tuned in April for the next Faculty Friday spotlight!
Elena Giudice, PBDA’s Upper Campus Spanish Teacher
1. Tell us about yourself (where did you grow up, education, etc.)? What brought you to Palm Beach? And to PBDA?
I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I left San Juan my sophomore year of high school to attend a boarding school located on a farm in New Hampshire (talk about cultural shock!). I went to college in Ripon College, WI where I majored in Combined Foreign Languages. I earned my M.A. from the University of Maryland in Intercultural Communications a few years later. I have lived in Delray Beach since 1996 and worked in nearby schools Pine Crest and Saint Andrew’s. During my married years, my husband’s work has taken us to live abroad (Greece, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, and Malta) and most recently, it took us to Milwaukee. I decided to move back to sunny and warm Florida and was lucky that PBDA had an opening. I had known Barbara Reyes from my years at Saint Andrew’s and so it didn’t take very long to twist my arm into joining the PBDA family.
2. Where did your passion for teaching come from?
I think it’s in my DNA! I come from a family of many educators, including my parents, who have inspired me. In my generation, many of my cousins have chosen the education field. I did not plan to be a teacher, but after my first permanent teaching position in Puerto Rico, I never stopped teaching or looking for other types of work. In high school, I took Latin, New Testament Greek, French, and German and had a teacher who spoke seven languages. He was a big source of inspiration. I was always fascinated by words and idiomatic expressions, loss of translation in meaning, word play, as well as internationalism and cultural diversity.
3. How many languages do you speak? At what age did you learn them, and how do you keep them up?
I was born into a bilingual/bicultural family in Puerto Rico (my mom is North American) where I went to a bilingual school from 3rd through 9th grade. I still remember “learning” English, as Spanish was definitely the strongest language around me, and I remember feeling frustrated with some aspects of the English language. French was the “second” language at my school as English was taught as a first language. I became truly fluent in French after living in France for two years. After eight years of French in the classroom, I was shocked when I arrived in France at the age of 16 and I couldn’t converse! After a month, I was getting better at understanding, but it took a few more months and intensive lessons to gain confidence and engage in conversations. I studied German formally in college and never developed fluency, sadly. Unfortunately, we mostly read and wrote in my German classes and I didn’t get enough speaking practice. The same was true for French and had I not lived in France, I probably would not have become so fluent.
Today, I use Duolingo and listen to songs in Italian, and I watch movies or TV series on Netflix in French and Spanish. When I watch French TV shows, I actually take notes on slang! Slang is what really adds spice to languages and helps you understand cultures even better. I also read articles, blogs, books, and novels in all three languages.
4. What does an average day in your classroom look like?
Busy and buzzy! Every day is different but my goal is the same: to increase speaking time for students. To do this, I try to create a lot of pairing activities. While students work in pairs with a task, you will see me walking around and “popping in” to hear how students are applying their lessons. I pick up on common mistakes which I then address when we re-group, and send them off to practice again. With the older students, I enjoy tech apps and often create activities that allow students to experience a variety of these apps to help increase their understanding of the language and to produce interesting projects. Like other subjects, the internet has given language teachers access to amazing authentic resources that connect or expose students to the latest in pop culture, music, news, etc. It’s really practical and the students really enjoy when I add visual and audio stimuli into the lessons.
5. You recently blogged for us about the importance of our students becoming lifelong language advocates. What does this mean and why do you feel it’s so crucial?
A student once said to me in class, “I want to be fluent so that when I have a baby, I can read and speak to my baby in Spanish and he/she can be bilingual.” That comment really surprised me and it made me think of how my effort as a teacher can transcend a generation. If we do it right in the classroom from Kindergarten through college – meaning we work hard to get our students to really develop fluency and show progress as well as interest – then they will demand the same for their children.
Tony Wagner in his book, The Global Achievement Gap, writes about the new survival skills students are in desperate need of gaining for the 21st-century workforce. He states that a core competency for today is to have an “understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures,” and that to be globally aware students need to meet the ability to understand “other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages.” In my opinion, collaboration and leading by influence are two messages that Wagner drives home that tie most explicitly to our students as they face more interconnectedness. It’s imperative they develop these skills in order to solve global issues and develop worldwide economic growth. In addition, I know all seven skills he writes about can be easily tapped into and developed in world language classes.
6. For many U.S. born and raised children, fluency in a second language is a much more rare occurrence than what we see in European children and therefore, much more daunting. Do you feel this puts our next generation at a disadvantage?
Being multilingual benefits you in so many ways and transfers over into other skills! Although we have “known” for some years that it is beneficial, we are just beginning to understand and be able to articulate what the implications are, and how the brain actually processes multiple languages.Elena Giudice, Upper Campus Spanish Teacher
Current research on the benefits includes the delay of Alzheimer’s disease and a variety of other cognitive abilities. Our students at PBDA are on the right path to becoming multilingual, but we can always improve as we learn more and more. The younger students are exposed to languages, the better. It’s very evident that students who start languages in the middle years are at a disadvantage compared to those who started in lower school or even those who speak already two languages at home, not to mention adults. When I was born into a bilingual home, my mother was advised by our pediatrician to only speak one language at home so as not to “confuse us” and delay our speech development. We have come a long way from that, and luckily for me, she ignored those suggestions!
7. How can we overcome “monolingualism”? Are there any lessons or ideas you are teaching in the classroom to help with this?
Early exposure is critical and the path to developing fluency amongst students is increasing contact time in the lower school. Immersion programs developed with that purpose. Unlike PBDA who is doing it right, many schools do not offer classes or offer languages with minimal contact. Children need continuous exposure. As far as in the classroom, a very important factor is to have an encouraging and motivating environment for students. Students need to be challenged by the teacher but more than anything by themselves. They need to learn to be active learners and that they have a lot of power and control in the process. I think that the activity we did this year during World Language Week where we had grade level talks about the benefits of multilingualism was worthwhile. Sometimes we have to allow time in class to discuss topics in English that will lead to a better understanding of the process.
8. What person – living or deceased – do you most admire?
I am blown away by Jane Goodall and all her dedication to saving our planet, animal species, and human communities. I watched her documentary on a flight back from Germany once and I cried with deep sadness. She doesn’t give up and she has seen the worst in humankind, but she still has hope for the future of this planet. She is unstoppable.
9. What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I have chopped wood, cooked on a wood stove, and made maple syrup the old way by tapping trees, picking up sap manually and then boiling it all down on fire as well. It’s all so northern, and I am from the Caribbean, so, yeah, that’s surprising to most!
10. Where is your favorite travel destination and why?
This is a hard question! I would go back in an instant to many places I have visited as a tourist. But, there is always that nostalgia about places you grew up going to as a child with your family. I was lucky to visit two beautiful places growing up on a regular basis. The first is Washington DC, a place I just love! I know I got my passion for interculturalism and traveling from my time there. Secondly, the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico is where I developed a long attachment to the ocean. I never take a day at the beach or at sea for granted.
11. What is your guilty pleasure?
Flan and crème brulée!
12. What is next on your bucket list? Travel throughout South America. And I do want to see Hamilton someday!