Stroke robs man of multilingual abilities

August 10, 2011

Here’s an interesting (and heart wrenching) article about a multilingual Edmonton man who lost all of his languages after a stroke. In the Globe and Mail article, Abdul Kamal reports that, “In the aftermath of the stroke, I lost all the languages I knew – English, French, German, Urdu and Bengali. I could neither read and write nor speak and comprehend.”

Kamal is a retired professor of physics at the University of Alberta who enjoyed physics, writing, travelling, sports, theatre before his stroke, but has been unable to take part in his favorite activities.

Determined to get his speech back, he reports, “Undaunted, I rounded up my own children’s books along with picture and alphabet cards and launched an uphill battle against my formidable foe – aphasia. David drove me to the Glenrose Hospital twice a week to learn English under the tutelage of a speech pathologist.” That was ten years ago, he states. From there, he progressed from working with a speech pathologist to group language learning sessions for aphasics (people who have lost their speech due to a stroke), and working with graduate students at the University of Alberta who were working with aphasics as part of their research and academic training.

Now, at age 75, Kamal offers a message of hope to others who have lost their speech due to a stroke:

After I had the stroke, a speech pathologist told me that I would show improvements in all my mental faculties over the following year and a half. However, at 75, I’m still learning. My speech, comprehension of spoken language and syntax are still improving, albeit slowly. The message is that if you challenge the brain, it will respond. Although at a certain age our memory bank starts to deplete, I’m sanguine about the future.

Kamal’s story reminds us to value the abilities we have to speak one, two or more languages. And when self-doubt or feelings of inadequacies fill us that we are not doing enough, not good enough or not as fluent or as perfect as we would like to be, we are reminded to celebrate the abilities that we have today and commit to the lifelong process of learning, no matter where we may fall on the continuum of proficiency.

Thank you, professor Kamal, for the inspiration.

Read the whole article.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

My Calgary Includes Both Official Languages in Schools

April 27, 2011

School girl on stairsI was astounded when I saw the headline tweet from the Calgary Herald: “French classes no longer mandatory in Calgary schools“. I read the article and astonishment turned to dismay.

It used to be that in Calgary, children in grades four to six had to learn French, Canada’s other official language. It seems that the Calgary Board of Education has now made it the choice of each individual school whether or not they choose to teach French to their students. The school may make its decision based on demand and interest. This decision comes just days after another announcement that the school board will cut hundreds of teaching jobs this year.

Is this a coincidence? I hardly think so.

While there is ample research that demonstrates the benefits of language learning on overall cognitive development, including math and problem solving skills, our local public school board has effectively said “if there’s no demand, there’s no reason to have these classes.” Just because I personally had no desire to take math in school, that didn’t make it optional.

Canada is a bilingual country. While many of us may never achieve full bilingual fluency, leaving cultural and linguistic exposure up to “school choice” and “student choice” won’t help us build a twenty-first century global citizenry. Nor will it help those children later in life if they ever want a job with the federal government. A job with the feds requires functional fluency… and our students won’t even get exposure to our country’s other official language.

The idea of making language learning choice-driven is akin to making it market driven. I’m all for marketing of language programs and promoting second language learning. I literally did a PhD thesis on marketing of language programs. In fact, I’m not even a huge proponent of mandatory language learning.

If it was really about “choice” or “market demand”, the board could have hired a market research firm to determine what classes would be among students’ first choice… Would the sciences be among most students’ favorites? Or phys ed? The answer is… no one knows. Because no one in Calgary has actually done any research to find out what students want now… and what skills they will need for their jobs later in life.

But this isn’t really about market demand or choice is it? This is about finding ways to cut programs, cut costs, cut jobs. It’s about balancing a budget in the short term… and doing it slyly and indirectly by making mandatory classes optional. No one’s thinking about making sciences optional here… just our country’s other official language.

And it’s gob-smackingly short sighted.

We don’t ask children if they’d like the choice to study math or English or science when they’re in grades four to six. It’s part of our job as responsible adults, parents and community leaders to provide them opportunities for learning that will serve as the foundation for more learning into the high school years… and later as the foundation for skills that will get them jobs and provide them with critical thinking skills as they then become the guardians of the next generation. It’s our job to get them excited about learning, keep their minds open and their motivation levels soaring so they engage in learning in new and innovative ways.

In Calgary, we seem to have forgotten that. Mon dieu…. Père, pardonne-leur car ils ne savent pas ce qu’ils font.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Spanish, French, German and ASL: Most Popular Languages Taught in US

December 8, 2010

Dan Berrett’s article, “Getting Their Babel On” (Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 8, 2010) shares the results of a study conducted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) in terms of university students in the US studying foreign languages. Here are the highlights:

  • The rate at which students took foreign language courses in 2009 remained constant, compared to three years prior.
  • The number of enrollments in language courses grew from 1.57 million in 2006 to 1.68 million in 2009, or 6.6 percent. However, the total number of enrollments in undergraduate courses as a whole also increased. In simple terms this means that language courses account for 8.6 of every 100 course enrollments in post-secondary institutions. That number has remained the same since 2006.
  • Of every 100 undergraduate degrees earned, 1.16 of them are in foreign languages.
  • 70 % of undergrad degrees in foreign languages are earned by women.
  • The most popular languages to study (aside from English, which is not considered a “foreign” language in the US) are Spanish, French, German, and American Sign Language, in that order.
  • American universities teach a total of 232 different languages.
  • Arabic boasted the highest increases in enrollments last year, with a 46% increase over the three previous years.
  • Graduate program enrollments in languages have dropped by 6.7 percent since 2006.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Is for-profit education deceitful? Have we no standards?

August 13, 2010

Students at Westwood College in the United States have just filed a law suit against the for-profit college in both Colorado and California, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. Both Westwood College, which has 17 campuses, and its affiliate, Redstone College are accused of deceiving and lying to students. The Chronicle reports that the claim against the institutions is that the college follows this formula, “Recruit those with the greatest financial need and enroll them in high-cost institutions to maximize the amount of federal funding.” The college is denying the allegations.

There is a raging debate going on about for-profit versus non-profit education. Which is better? Which is more scrupulous? Which is more trustworthy?

These are tough questions.

In Canada, an interesting and very cool thing happened a few years ago. In the languages field, we have had standards organizations for decades. For most of that time, public institutions had one organization (CLC) and private language schools had another (CAPLS). Over the years, individuals from both of these organizations began attending the same trade fairs, the same agent workshops and the same conferences. Friendships were forged. Conversations began. And understanding grew on both sides about the purpose, ethics and motivations of those who worked in the “other” sector. In 2008, representatives from both organizations came together to form Languages Canada and a new professional organization for language learning in Canada was born. This new organization represents schools teaching both official languages, English and French, and includes member institutions from both the public and for-profit sectors.

This new organization quickly became “the” professional language organization in Canada. Why?

One word: Standards.

Prospective members must not only apply, they must undergo a rigorous application process that includes an in-depth school inspection and evaluation. Only schools deemed to meet the relentless standards of the organization are accepted as members. Members are monitored to ensure that they continue to meet the standards established by the organization.

I don’t know what will happen with the case of Westwood and Redstone Colleges. I do know that students need to be kept at the heart of our work, while professional standards guide us along that path.

Students don’t feed the bottom line. They are the bottom line. Students’ potential, capacity to grow, learn, get jobs that allow them to support themselves and live meaningful lives, and in turn, pass their knowledge and wisdom on to the generations to know, is the reason education exists at all.

As educators and administrators, we are obliged to keep the standards for our profession high and demand excellence not only of our students but of our selves and our institutions.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Gandhi empowered others in 11 different languages

July 15, 2010

I have long been a student of Mohandas K. Gandhi and his work. For him, learning languages was a way to better understand the world around him and ultimately, to change it for the better. Gandhi learned 11 different languages in order to extend his reach and empower others:

  1. Gujarati
  2. English
  3. Sanscrit
  4. Latin
  5. Hindi
  6. Urdu
  7. Tamil
  8. Telugu
  9. Arabic
  10. Persian
  11. French

Gandhi saw learning languages as a way of communicating better with others and understanding the world more profoundly. These weren’t just noble intentions. They became part of the foundation of his work.

Aren’t these, at least in part, some of the same reason we are drawn to teaching and learning other languages?

Related posts:

Check out my conference paper on this topic:

Eaton, S. E. (2010). Leading Through Language Learning and Teaching: The Case of Gandhi. Paper presented at the Interdisciplinary Language Research: Relevance and Application Series, Language Research Centre, University of Calgary.


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Update – November, 2017 – This blog has had over 1.7 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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