s=v*t + 0.5a*t^2 ~ Wanneer heeft u vorige bezoek?

If you teach a foreign language, what is the most important or essential for your learners? 

  • Is it that they are grammatically correct? 
  • Is it that they can read a book or watch a video in that language and understand the message? 
  • Is it that they can communicate with others when in a country where this language is the primary language?
  • Is it that they can solve problems that arise while in a country where this language is the primary language?

While being grammatically correct and reading are both very important, I’m pretty sure that we would agree that being able to communicate with others and solve problems in another language would be more important.  If I’m sick, I need to find a doctor or the hospital.  Right?

I made several new friends at last week.  Culturally, we are very different.  For example this came across my Twitter timeline from @mvanast: 

Laatste ontbijtje hier. Gek dat ze deken dat je ijsthee wilt, als je thee bestelt.” 

Roughly translated it says “Last breakfast here.  Crazy that they bring you iced tea when you order tea.”  It is shocking to expect hot tea and be served iced tea.  Michel speaks (and tweets) in English as well as Dutch.  I, on the other hand, speak (and tweet) in English only.  I can use the Live Search translator to read Michel’s messages.  He does not need a translator to read my tweets. 

Our colleagues, the teachers of foreign languages, want their learners to be prepared when they visit another country.  We want our learners to understand the culture, the climate, the traditions and the customs as well as the language itself.  Is this true for me, a teacher of mathematics, the language of science? I dare to say that most, if not all of my colleagues teaching foreign language have been to a country where the language they instruct is spoken.  Have we, the teachers of mathematics? 

Are we teaching a language when
we have never visited the lands where the language is spoken?

Has it been so long since we have visited these lands that
we have forgotten about the culture and the traditions that are important?

Photo by @fnoshese, 2010 (Cross River, NY)


What are the components of the culture, climate, traditions and customs? What are the conventions and must-knows for the lands our learners use our language to survive, function, and thrive?  What serves as the Live Search translator for our learners when they are immersed in one of these lands?  How can we, teacher-learners, develop opportunities for “foreign exchange programs” and visit these lands to experience the culture and practice our language?

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday,
we rob our children of tomorrow”
~ John Dewey


  1. It’s like taking a course on number theory in college. Mathematicians spent years studying prime numbers without any reason for doing so other than the love of numbers. However, now their findings are used for all of the encryption performed on data sent over the Internet. However, students rarely study its application to real life. (Believe it or not, I was just having a conversation about it this morning…)


  2. What a powerful comparison and suggestion to encourage math teachers (really all teachers in any department-based school or otherwise) to “travel” to where their language is spoken. On Monday, I begin a five week sabbatical by interning at Unboundary, a strategic studio in Atlanta. Much of my reasoning for doing so is to live in what is a foreign country for me – in one that speaks a language I think I speak but want to know more. So that when I return to school, I will be able to see through new lenses for Synergy, PLCs, faculty support, etc.


  3. @mvanast and I had a conversation on Twitter about language that I want to share…Shouldn’t we all have this conversation about math and science and English and history, etc.?

    Michel van Ast:
    @jgough I’m curious. What was the original sentence in English for ‘Wanneer heeft u vorige bezoek?’ This says: when did you last visit?

    Jill Gough:
    @ @mvanast Orig English: “When were you last there?” meaning when did you last visit land of sciences? Thx for inspiration; translation check.

    Michel van Ast:
    @jgough Ah! 🙂 A better spelling for that sentence would be ‘Wanneer was u er voor het laatst?’ BTW I love my Google Translate app!

    Jill Gough:
    @mvanast I think I’ll stick with ‘Wanneer heeft u vorige bezoek’ “When did you last visit?” Thx for checking. Did worry about actual transln

    Michel van Ast:
    @jgough You should! That’s the translation given by your app. Besides, it’s a funny translation 🙂

    Jill Gough:
    @mvanast Even in the US, I talk funny (southern accent). It is only appropriate that I am funny in Dutch too. Thanks! 🙂 Fun post to write.

    I probably should fix the sentence to meet Michel’s better spelling, but I’m learning from our Spanish PLT that what is important is to be understood. Then, I will work on grammar…(or just stick with being funny).


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