TATIANA LERA, a Brunswick Junior High School language instructor, was appointed in June to a team of 19 teachers statewide who are in charge of developing a world languages curriculum to fit Maine’s implementation of Common Core educational standards.

TATIANA LERA, a Brunswick Junior High School language instructor, was appointed in June to a team of 19 teachers statewide who are in charge of developing a world languages curriculum to fit Maine’s implementation of Common Core educational standards.

BRUNSWICK

The difference between “foreign” and “different” may only be semantic, particularly when it comes to language. But Brunswick Junior High School teacher Tatiana Lera believes it’s an important distinction.

Lera — a language instructor at BJHS for nine years — was appointed in June to a team of 19 teachers statewide who are in charge of developing a world languages curriculum to fit Maine’s implementation of Common Core educational standards.

Common Core is a series of state-driven initiatives to overhaul education policies and standards of achievement. The Common Core generally narrows the range of subjects taught but focuses instead on deepening the understanding of those subjects.

A native of Barcelona, Spain, Lera is fluent in English and Spanish, as well as her native dialect of Catalan, and can get by in French and Italian, as well.

True fluency cannot be instructed; it has to be acquired, Lera said. But it starts with making a distinction between communication that is “foreign” and talking in a language that is “different.”

“It’s all the same communication, it’s just in a different language,” she said.

The most effective way to learn it is to have no choice, which is why “immersion learning” is so effective, Lera added.

By way of example, she alluded to her husband as someone who claimed he was beyond learning new languages. But after three years stationed in Italy, he had acquired enough of the local dialect to make his way.

Some people have more of a knack for language acquisition than others, Lera said, but anyone can build a basic working proficiency.

“You have to need it or want it,” Lera said. “It’s gratifying when (students) get it. You always have to give them just a little bit more than they’re ready for at the time.”

The trick is knowing how far to make each student reach without getting frustrated. It’s what makes the concept of the Common Core standard “what we were supposed to have been doing all along,” Lera said.

It’s a question of attitude and expectation as much as overhauling a curriculum: Common Core standards assume that all students will achieve proficiency at least at their current grade level.

The outcome is the constant, rather than the variable, in the equation.

“How we get there is what’s going to change,” Lera said.

The world language teachers gathered at University of Maine at Farmington over the summer and spent a week training and comparing ideas. Through the school year they’ll communicate monthly by video conference.

When it’s done, the program’s reach is intended to exceed Maine’s borders: Their goal is to assemble a website with lesson plans and “best practices” that can be used by language teachers anywhere in the country or world.

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