The Craft of Teaching World Languages


As foreign language studies grow increasingly relevant, we spoke with several teachers about how they make the most impact.

Nicole Rudolph (French).

Q: How do you go about teaching your language?

A:  It depends on the level of class. With elementary classes, I use a more project-based approach and incorporate more speaking. In middle levels, building conjugation is important as well as growing vocabulary. With the higher levels such as French 4, it’s useful to add history and art history to the lessons so students can understand the context.

Q: What makes you unique as a teacher? 

A: I try to bring in character and leadership into lessons, as well as real-life work experience so that students can increase their cultural intelligence and linguistic abilities.

Q: How do you approach designing your lessons?

A: Flexibility. I do my best to fit what the specific group of students need while taking into account mood and energy levels.

Q: In your three years here, what have you learned about teaching effectively?

A: It means nothing if you have a perfect lesson if the students aren’t ready to receive information. I make sure everyone is ready before we move on to another unit. While I do want students to go at their own pace, it is also important to push them so that they do their best.

Frances Fremont-Smith ’75 (Mandarin)

Mandarin teacher Frances Fremont-Smith ’75 teaches Middle Schoo. Photo by David Barron.

Q: How do you go about teaching Mandarin?

A: I attempt to teach with strategies that make the language clear to the students. Sometimes, that means giving explanation or playing games to reinforce what they are learning.

Q: Mandarin is a popular language to learn, but it can be very challenging. With this in mind, how do you teach in a way that the students are able to learn effectively? 

A: I try to make it relevant to the students, and interesting and exciting. It’s important to peak curiosity so students are encouraged to learn more. To make classes more interesting, I try to implement hands-on learning techniques like making videos, writing blogs, reading stories or making things -even 3D sentences!

Q: What makes Mandarin unique as a language?

A: Mandarin is unique because it uses characters (pictograms) instead of an alphabet. Learning characters may seem scary to some, but it is also an advantage due to the fact that Mandarin requires very little grammar—unlike romance languages such as Spanish and French. The challenging part about Mandarin is not speaking or listening skills; it is learning to write the many Chinese characters. This is why it is important to find ways to make memorizing the characters as interesting as possible.