The Virginia Governor’s Foreign Language Academies are summer language immersion programs sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education, allowing Virginia’s most talented language learners to further explore their interests in world languages and cultures outside of the typical classroom. The full immersion academies, hosted at Washington & Lee University, provide students with the opportunity to speak exclusively in the target languages of French, German, or Spanish for three weeks. Some of my fondest high school memories stem from my time as an Academy student. Here, I was able to share in my passion for the German language with 44 other students, many of whom would become some of my closest friends. This past summer, I had the privilege of working as a “Betreuer,” or RA, at the 2018 German Academy. By returning to the Academy this year, I was not only able to practice my own language skills, but also given a chance to witness the tremendous impact world language learning has on high school students.
I believe that fostering student growth through ordinary interactions is something that makes foreign language learning truly unique. While this concept is extremely valuable in the typical classroom, it is especially applicable to the Foreign Language Academy experience. Students at the Academy practice the language by ordering breakfast, chatting between classes, playing board games, and sharing dorm space. These activities allow them to become comfortable in the language, all the while discretely reinforcing grammar rules, vocabulary, and cultural context. From a pedagogical perspective, this sense of normalcy and comfort provided by the Academy environment plays an important role in limiting typical affective factor obstacles to language learning. Every student leaves the Academy with newfound skills and strengths, many of which they continue to incorporate into their language learning once they return to school. By providing students with this incredible opportunity to gain confidence in their language skills, the Virginia Department of Education is not only enhancing the education of our young language learners, but empowering an entire generation of global citizens. It is my sincere hope that the Virginia Governor’s Foreign Language Academies continue to receive funding and inspire students for many years to come.