Episode 73 – NFLC, Lectia, and You

Episode 73 - It's About Language with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 73 - NFLC, Lectia, and You
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“The National Foreign Language Center’s mission is to help people understand each other and the world around them. And we do that most notably through producing and developing language resources in many lesser known languages. And the cool thing about the National Foreign Language Center is that a lot of these resources that we develop are absolutely free. And that’s where we focus on the language equity part.”

Language folk are a generous people.

Language people have tapped into the joy, energy, and amazement that comes from realizing that inside each human being is this capacity and necessity to make oneself understood and to connect with others.

Megan Jeffrey is yet another wonderful example of this life-affirming and powerful phenomenon, as you will see from her biography.

And she works for an organization that embodies these principles, the National Foriegn Language Center, located at the University of Maryland. Through the NFLC individuals and groups can access the education and resources they need develop personal and professional skills, to improve the lives of those around them (near and far), and to understand and participate more fully in the multicultural and multillingual reality of the world around them.

Check out the NFLC’s website. Download the Lectia app. Connect up with Megan to see what the Center can do for you and those whose liveson which you have impact.

And enjoy this lively podcast with a fascinating human being, who reflects the spirit of the organization with which she works, and the spirit of all those who turn to language to understand themselves and all humanity around the world more deeply.

Scroll down for full transcript.

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You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

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Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

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Want to hear more? Access previous episodes, and get to know the wonderful people I talk with through the It’s About Language page, or by clicking on the Podcast tab above. You can also find this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

As a certified Gallup Strengths coach, I can provide you or your organization personalized coaching to discover and build on your strengths.

I provide workshops, presentations, and talks that inspire and engage through powerful language insights, and I pair those insights with practical applications for the lives of educators, learners, businesses, and faith-centered organizations. I’d love to share ideas with your organization or group, and develop an event tailored to your objectives.

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Transcript

Norah Jones:

Well, and I’m looking forward to this conversation very much because the conversations I’ve already had with Megan Jeffrey has been delightful. And I know that today, all of you are going to enjoy the delight of this woman who’s doing so much to bring about the change in how people interact with and make use of world language and global culture. So I’m excited. Welcome, Megan.

Megan Jeffrey:

Thank you so much. It is a delight, an absolute delight and honor to be here this morning with you.

Norah Jones:

Well, it’s going to be fun to be able to share multiple things, including who you are, the center itself, and then some of the resources that I know that you are eager to bring to people’s attention. And throughout, I’m going to remind my listeners that on my website, fluency.consulting, you can find more information about delightful Megan, but also about the center, and specifically to be able to access or have a pathway to access those resources. So keep that in mind, please, throughout. And so Megan, you are the Director of Strategic initiatives and Communication at the National Foreign Language Center, which is at the University of Maryland. What does that position do and why did they snatch you up for it?

Megan Jeffrey:

That’s still a mystery, the last part. No, I’m just kidding. So within my role, the scope of what I do is really about, it’s really tied to its mission, the National Foreign Language Center‘s mission, which I’ll just use the acronym from here on out, the NFLC. Our mission is to help people understand each other and the world around them. And we do that through a plethora of ways, but most notably, we do that through producing and developing language resources in many lesser known languages. And we also focus a lot on language equity and ensuring that we not only develop the languages that are most popular a Spanish, French, the ones you’re used to, Chinese, Arabic, but we’re delving into languages that maybe you haven’t heard of.

Megan Jeffrey:

And the cool thing about the National Foreign Language Center is that a lot of these resources that we develop are absolutely free. And that’s where we focus on the language equity part. So my job in particular is to focus on how the NFLC can expand its audience, whether that’s through social media, traditional marketing ways, those kinds of things. Or it’s partnering with new people and organizations that we haven’t necessarily worked with in the past. A lot of our work we do with government and private companies, but there hasn’t really, in the past, been a focus on how do we get the community involved and how are we making sure that the resources that we developed really reach the people who could use them, and would be interested in using them. So that might be libraries, that might be school systems. And again, many of our resources are free so we really want to make sure that people are aware of these things. And so that’s a little bit about what I do.

Norah Jones:

Well, and that expansion. What is it that is about your background, that not only that you are present doing that, but that sense of growth, outreach, expansion, awareness, especially exciting and applicable for you?

Megan Jeffrey:

Oh gosh, this is the part that I could go on and on about, so I’ll try and keep it short. But I grew up as a lover of languages and global cultures, global music, dance, comedy, anything that brings people together, I’m all over it. And so I grew up in a very diverse community. I grew up as a Baha’i, which is extremely diverse and celebrates diversity. I also grew up as a white person in a predominantly African American community, so I really was around different cultures my entire life. And it didn’t make me feel like a little loner, like I don’t belong, where do I fit in? But I grew up with the ideology that we are all one, and that our differences just make us more of a beautiful garden. And so that’s really the foundation of who I am as a person. And that drew me to the NFLC because of the NFLC’s mission. Along my path in life, I studied a lot of foreign languages. I’m very, very good at doing impressions, which I think is directly correlated to being able to speak and learn languages.

Megan Jeffrey:

And I would do this in my fun time with my siblings, just growing up, making fun of our parents, and our parents’ friends, and how they interact with each other, and just how they would say things, and those kind of things. But it got me also interested in the tongues I was hearing around me. So lots of diverse languages were always around me. So I started studying, my first language that I started studying was Farsi, which is the language of Iran, or Persian. And the next language I started studying was Spanish, and I took that in school. Then I dived into Chinese and I lived overseas with the School Year Abroad program. I always plug them wherever I go because it’s such an amazing program. And I came back fluent in Mandarin after nine months.

Megan Jeffrey:

And then I started studying other languages like Russian and Tagalog and Lingala, anything I could get my hands on. I’m very, very good at picking up accents. So actually, as a comedian, I do lots of impressions with different accents in skits and stuff. And I’ve managed to pick up the Trinidadian accent. I was married to a Trinidadian for 15 years, so I really lived amongst Trinidadian so I could pick it up very easily. I’ve been able to connect with lots of global cultures in that way and make people laugh and elevate cultures, I think a lot of comedians like to bring out the worst in people to make a laugh, but I like to do the opposite, bring out the best. And I do that through language and the nuances that people don’t recognize that we do or they do in their language, but an outsider does. So yeah, that’s kind of me, that’s Megan in a nutshell.

Norah Jones:

Well, that was a wonderful nutshell. And hold on to that thought about the Trinidadian technique because we’ll come back to that. I’d like to tap on a couple of the thoughts that come from watching those experiences. You have grown up, you said in a multicultural, multilingual society, but you didn’t feel like an outsider, you felt like it was part of being in the garden of humanity. You’re talking about even in your comedy work, bringing out the best in people and responses. And so take a look at some of the positivity that’s part of that right now, Megan, the idea that something that sometimes seems scary to people, let’s go ahead and start with the scary part. What is it that you in your roles help people to understand about the invitation, the fragrance of that garden, rather than a sense of being overwhelmed or frightened by the multiplicity of humanity that they see?

Megan Jeffrey:

That is so important. I’m so glad that you want to go there because a lot of people I think are afraid to go there. In order to really delve into this, it really takes a geopolitical understanding of why we are the way we are today. And my simple interpretation of this is that we’ve long had this competition of one country against another, and we didn’t really look at our interconnectedness as a way of being stronger. It was always, how do we beat the other one? Who’s going to stay on top? I have a lot of privilege being that, one, I’m white, two, I grew up in the United States, where we all have this prominence already because of the history. But now, we’re coming into an understanding as human beings that we are all interconnected, science supports the fact that we are one race of people, but we have many ethnic backgrounds that make us beautiful. And so I think a shift in heart maybe, in thought, is that we are no longer able to continue with this separate system. We have to recognize our oneness in order to move forward as humanity.

Megan Jeffrey:

And we could just take a look at COVID. I mean, look at COVID, COVID doesn’t discriminate whether you are rich or poor, and which locality you are on the planet, we’re all going to get it. And if one doesn’t cooperate, the rest suffer. And so it just points to our interconnectedness, almost everything points to our interconnectedness. And foreign languages or world languages. I know that can also be a contentious topic to say a foreign language versus world language. But when you take a look at those languages and tongues, a lot of times, it was scary because it represented a difference, and then therefore competition, and who’s better than who, and you’re going to push me down if I let you up. And so it was very much like that.

Megan Jeffrey:

So what I like to do in whether it’s my work or comedy, which I think are one and the same, I like to show people that are differences are actually very, very similar. And whether it’s a Trinidadian expression of maybe an emphasis on the end of a sentence, Chinese people do the same thing in Chinese language, and Americans do the same thing in the American English vernacular. And we’re all doing these very similar things, but yet they’re different. And when you point out these similarities, it then brings people not only a very humorous approach, “Oh, that’s so funny. I never recognized we do this,” but then it’s for people who don’t know about other cultures around the world, they are now connected through something very simple as an emphasis on the end of a sentence. And I’m speaking vaguely, but I’ve done many videos on this too.

Norah Jones:

Interesting. So I hope that you will have made sure that we have access to some of those videos so people can actually see you in action as they connect up with your other resources. Now, you’ve alluded to the language in it, you have so much sociological history that you’re tapping into here, as well as linguistic, your international education policy degree, other things that bring you to Maryland, and to connections with Johns Hopkins and so forth. The thing I’d like to go back to is tap on the very nature of language. Come at this from a moment, again, the linguistic nature in the brain, you have tapped on, in your example, people, say, hearing rising intonation at the end of sentences, and recognizing those things happen across humanity. With your skillset, how do you help to follow that path where people react with humor, but you make more overt through your work, through your life, that this is how language works. This is why language can be the breakthrough from competition to cooperation, and to celebration of diversity.

Megan Jeffrey:

I would start by saying that we all speak something, that’s how we communicate. Language is a form of communication, and underlying that, it’s a connection. So when anyone speaks another one’s tongue, they are trying to connect with them. And you can see this, if you are an American and you go to, let’s say, China, and somebody knows, somewhere knows about Southern accents or pieces of a culture that you relate to. Suddenly you feel closer to them because wow, they appreciate you. And the same thing happens when you do it with any language. If you are learning, let’s say, for me, I learned Mandarin, when I speak anything in Mandarin to a Chinese person or speaker, they suddenly feel like, “Oh, you get where I’m coming from.” And that is the foundation for all language. You’re just communicating to connect.

Megan Jeffrey:

And what I do in the work that I do, let’s say, in comedy, and when I do those kinds of videos is what I’m really touching on is something we all connect with, we all use, and how then that can be used as a way to unify and to unite and to bring us together. And its something so subtle. And then I sneak in the underlying message that I’m trying to get across. So that’s what I do there. And then in terms of the NFLC, my work there, it’s very simple. I get to give away free methodologies for connecting. Who can say no to that? And these are developed by experts, experts who are putting these things together for government clients. I mean, wouldn’t that be an amazing resource to have as a language student, or anyone interested in that? So the fact that I get to do this work is phenomenal, it’s amazing. I get to live my life mission at work and in my outside life, which really are merged together.

Norah Jones:

So fascinating. Now, keep in mind two things simultaneously, it’s so nice to be able to ask you to do that and to know you’ll be able to do it. You have the what? The resources, the options that people can tap through the NF.

Megan Jeffrey:

LC.

Norah Jones:

LC.

Megan Jeffrey:

Right.

Norah Jones:

But you also are looking at expansion, which means that you have to address the why. So combine those two. What is it that you are offering and why is it that people should turn to you and say, “I want that”?

Megan Jeffrey:

Those are all really good questions. And I would say the answer’s always unfolding as we continue to progress in the world and in life. Sometimes our reasons for developing things change according to the geopolitical landscape or what’s going on. But by and large, the foundation for all of this, and the why really goes back to our mission, is to connect people, and to help them understand one another in the world around them, which makes you a stronger citizen, a stronger person, a stronger global citizen, really. I mean, that’s where we’re headed. We’re headed to a global citizenry. And those who don’t embrace that will likely be left behind. But these resources are aimed at helping people understand one another, so that they can make informed decisions, whether that’s a political decision or not. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that. What it aims to do is to connect people and anybody can use this, whether you are a language learner, whether you’re a teacher who’s looking to supplement your lessons, whether you’re looking for professional development. I mean, we have so much to offer.

Megan Jeffrey:

We do a lot of language research. And so we’re always, making sure that we’re on the cutting edge of staying abreast of what’s going on and how language is useful to the workplace, to people, to everywhere. So really, that’s really the gist of it, and the why, is really to connect people. But in terms of product development, again, like I said, it depends upon what’s necessary out there. And one thing that differentiates, let’s say, Lectia, which is our new language learning app, which currently, I’ll make a plug here, it has seven languages, Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Korean, and Spanish, but we’re adding 12 more languages in the fall. It’s in the App Store right now. It is completely free, it has zero ads. I mean, you can’t say no to this. But one thing that we saw that was a need in the market when we created Lectia, was that there’s a lot of gamification apps out there. Learning a language from the jump, it’s you got to learn the basics.

Megan Jeffrey:

So Lectia’s really for someone who has already attempted to learn the language, and maybe there’s still at a beginner level, maybe they’re intermediate or advanced, we have all three levels. But this app goes beyond the gamification apps, it’s extremely thorough. So not only are reading, listening, and learning through these passages that were created by and for native speakers, you’re learning about the content of the particular area in which the language is spoken. So that’s how we create language materials, is we look at what’s going on right now, current day issues, and we teach through that. And so that means also that the glossary is read by a native speaker, so you can hear how it’s sounding or is supposed to sound, which I will argue, accent is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing when learning a language, any language.

Megan Jeffrey:

But the other thing is the background notes, it really gives you a thorough understanding of, “Okay, well, what’s the importance of this phrase and the slang? What’s the importance of this icon in history of such and such country?” So I mean, there is no other app that I’ve seen out there that it’s as thorough and free, and it’s not like, “Hey, if you want to go to lesson six, you better pay us.” Nothing of the sort.

Norah Jones:

Nice. And I’m going to spell for our listeners Lectia, that’s just L-E-C-T-I-A, so that as they continue to listen to you, to go to my website. The fact is that as they go searching on their app store, that they can find this. The concept of the authenticity, describe again the power that the Resource Center believes in, that you believe in, that your outreach is for, in the aspect that you’ve just described about Lectia, which has to do with the cultural linguistic context. And we understand it correctly, the contemporary experiences.

Megan Jeffrey:

The NFLC really looks at language as not just something to train in, so you can get a job, and boom, bang, you’re done. It really looks at language as the opening to another people. And people are complex, and so language is a window into the culture of the people that you want to study, or you want to learn about, or whatever. When you learn a language, you cannot just learn the grammar and the vocabulary sentence structure. You can’t, that’s limited. That’s making this into a science. You humanize it by learning about how did these phrases come about? Why are these phrases important? There’s a lot of pieces of any language, any language in the world that has slang to it.

Megan Jeffrey:

And one slang can mean something in a different day and time, language is always evolving. And so that’s one of the reasons why we teach it according to area studies is because as we go through time, history changes language. And so we don’t use it all the time the same way. And so yeah, language for us is not just about, “Okay, learn the language so you can speak it,” but learn the language so you can connect with the people, and understand them as whole beings, and not just a third world country member. That’s terminology is actually problematic for me. So that’s how the NFLC and myself would view a language, is really about connecting with a people.

Norah Jones:

When you said the phrase, “Not just language as a science,” and that indeed has been the approach, again, historically speaking, in many educational systems, including the United States, has been compartmentalized as discipline that can be systematized, if you take a look at the components. To our detriment, as languages are often under assault by the concept of, well, if you call computer language a language, then one can replace the other, and that’s systematizing and scientificizing, if you will, if I can make that up, is a big problem of it. This area studies basis. Now, let’s turn and say when you, Megan, take a look at who you want to reach with this, everybody of course might be the answer, but help us all to understand who do you imagine being especially attracted by this? And who might not have thought that it’s for them, but that you would encourage them to think again?

Megan Jeffrey:

Well, I think you already mentioned, it’s for everyone and that’s what we want it to do. But in my view, in the United States in particular, that’s what I’ll speak in terms of, we traditionally, whether we wrote it down on paper, or it’s just the feeling that we have, and I was a language student, so I was around this feeling all the time, not personally within my body, but those around me, language has always been used as a tool to extract from another country, and not to elevate a culture, not to understand the people, not to recognize their worthiness as much as ours. It’s always been a tool of like, “How do we get over on them?” And so a lot of my peers in my language classes were like, “Oh, I want to learn this so I could do business here,” which is great. But if you’re just using a language to extract from a place and not really elevate them and appreciate them as human beings, then you’re not attached to the language, you’re not attached to the people, you’re using it as a tool to manipulate.

Megan Jeffrey:

And so I don’t want to knock anybody who uses and learns a language for their particular area of work. That’s wonderful. But one must be careful when they learn the language, what is your true intention? And are you really uplifting the other person? Do you really acknowledge their worthiness, their importance? Or are you just stepping on them so that you can gain economically or something like that? That’s my personal viewpoint. So I think we really need to change the way we think about other people and countries, in order to move all of us to the top. So that we don’t have this dichotomy between less fortunate and the most fortunate, I know I speak very idealistically. You can call me an idealist if you want, but I guarantee this is the future. However much we fight it, we’ll get there one day.

Norah Jones:

And I think about the empowering sense that you have just brought, that because so much, indeed, of what is being stressed. In order to be able to advocate for programs, a lot of the expressions about why it is important to advocate for the programs is in the line of what you have just said extractive.

Megan Jeffrey:

Mm-hmm.

Norah Jones:

Or at least we might call it practical perhaps, if we put it that way practical from our viewpoint. But this image of where we’re headed from a humanity point of view, from an engagement point of view, sounds like it could be transformational for the way that global peoples perceive each other.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yes. And this tagged onto the what you really asked, which was who is it for? I think once people have the recognition of our oneness, then learning a language becomes for everyone. Whatever industry you’re a part of, or you want to get into, whether or not it is part of your business plan, it’s for everyone. So the fact that our geopolitical landscape, our world, our planet is headed for unity versus continuous discord, is all the more reason you should be learning other people’s tongues because you’re going to be interacting with them. I mean, let’s take it down to a very simple thing. If you are a customer-facing industry, then you’ve got to know your customer base. And actually, I taught, and I still do, accent and pronunciation for Chinese language. I think there’s a lot of Americans in particular who have very thick American accents when they speak Mandarin. And actually, I mean, you can get by, but it’d be more powerful if you can really speak the way. And I can go into that, this is a whole other conversation.

Megan Jeffrey:

But the reason why I teach the accent is so when you enter that particular context and you say someone’s name correctly, it will command their attention. So you can think of it as something very simple as if you are in a boardroom and you’re tired, and you’re thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner that night, and what you have to do when you get off of work. And you’re in a board and then suddenly your boss calls you, “Nora,” then boop, you’re peeking up and, oh man, now you have to pay attention. But if you’re in a classroom and you’re dozing off, you’re doing whatever, you’re doodling on your board, and a teacher says, “Norah, Norah,” then you’re going to be like, “Was that me?” You’re not really going to pay attention. If somebody says your name correctly, then suddenly their attention is yours. And same with a customer service facing industry. If you know what’s important to your customer, then your customer base and satisfaction increases.

Megan Jeffrey:

And so if you apply language in this concept and be able to say their names correctly, or understand the importance of certain phrases or what not to say, then suddenly your consumer base increases. And so can it be applied in any context, also medical field. If you’re serving someone who’s terrified and has received a cancer diagnosis, and suddenly you are speaking in their tongue, at least a small phrase, they’re relaxed.

Norah Jones:

Yeah.

Megan Jeffrey:

It hits them at the heart. And that’s what we all have. We all have a heart. And you see, this is when I get to the idealistic part and lose all of the practical people but…

Norah Jones:

That’s all right. We got heart and practical people listening, go for it, Megan. Well, I think in a small way, and you brought up a very powerful scenario there with someone that’s suffering from a disease and they’ve recognized this, and then that reassurance in front of them, that someone is speaking their language. That allows it, indeed, to go to their heart and to help them to feel reassured in their basic identity. And here we go again, always to identity, I think about I’m sure that, well, I didn’t really enjoy geometry, which is ironic because I love mathematics, but that year had two things going, I believe an approach to geometry in 10th grade that I never did resonate with until I built a house, and then I had to learn it, and then the fact that the teacher all year long called me Noah. And part of my disassociation from that particular year and that particular teacher comes from the fact that my name was consistently mispronounced. And your story helps me to continue to understand that identity through language comes in very interesting vignettes like that.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

And that an accent when cultivated with honesty and effort can make a huge difference.

Megan Jeffrey:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Norah Jones:

I think about a friend of mine who has a Chinese background, and she was very careful after she finished spelling her name to make sure that it was pronounced to me and even wrote in the pronunciation into my cell phone. So that as I thought of her, I would not mispronounce, AKA put English pronunciation in there. Give us some vignettes then about how it is that Lectia, and the other resources that you wish folks to realize they can avail themselves of, help people to understand some of these insights with their gut to commit to them, to commit to the effort.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yeah.

Norah Jones:

That it takes. Absolutely.

Megan Jeffrey:

I think, again, we touched on this before, Lectia, it’s developed by and for native speakers. So let’s say, you’re a heritage speaker and you’re used to learning, or you’re used to hearing the language and speaking it, but you’re not sure how to write it, and those kinds of things. I mean, we go into the space where the language is spoken and we pull things like library card applications or apartment rental notices, or things that you’re going to see in a daily life of living in a culture or a country. So we use those things first and foremost. But also, for those of us who are not heritage speakers and are learning second languages, we want to know how to hear it and how it’s spoken. And so in Lectia, in particular, the native speaker reads aloud the vocabulary or phrase. So that’s very helpful in that sense. We also have something called the Portal, which has 99 languages on it and over 7,000 learning materials. And again, same methodology, it’s developed by and for native speakers, and it’s a lot of material to cover.

Megan Jeffrey:

So there’s that. Also, within the portal, we use video learning objects, we call them VLOs. And those are things like back in the day, now I think the COVID’s changed things, but 10:00 PM, the hottest shows would come on. And so what are the hottest shows in a particular country? We’re using clips from those to really immerse learners, in an experience of learning a language that’s authentic. It’s not a textbook in a sense that you’re looking at a book and you’re like, “Okay, let me learn this. All right.” And you’re pronouncing in all sorts of wrong ways and so there’s that. But one of the reasons why I do that accent class, and I have to say, I’m gifted that this is my only God-given talent, all else is just circumstantial, the fact that I can pick up accents, I have a very musical ear, which means also I can dance very well, but when I hear it, I can repeat it the same way.

Megan Jeffrey:

So when I was working in an industry that had a lot of Chinese students, I noticed that a lot of the personnel who interacted with them, whether it were professors or administrators or something like that, I noticed that they didn’t understand the students. They didn’t understand the culture behind why Chinese students in particular acted certain ways. And another thing that you mentioned is that the Chinese students have a tendency, when they learn English, they’re given an English name, which is same thing, if I learned Mandarin, I have a Chinese name. Okay, no problem. But many times, what happens is, they’re the way they name, the way they are given names in Chinese is very poetic. And it’s like stone, but it’s like a beautiful stone that means something in their culture. But here in the English, if you say, my name is stone, they might be like, “What? You’re a rock.” So it doesn’t translate, there’s some translation issues. So many times, Chinese students will come over and they will say, “Call me Rainbow.” And you’re like, “What? Oh, okay.”

Megan Jeffrey:

But the average American, I would say, would say, “All right, well, if that’s what you want me to call you, fine, I’ll call you Rainbow. It’s easy for me.” And there’s this misconception among Chinese people that Americans, or anyone outside the US, in fact, who speaks another language is that Americans are incapable somehow of being able to bend their tongues in a way that honors and values the other person’s name. But that’s simply not true. And that’s one of the myths I like to debunk in these classes, is that Americans are very capable of pronouncing names correctly, you just have to tell them what it is. And so I made it a huge practice, as part of this class, to teach professors and administrators to say, “Okay, this is your name, Rainbow. Okay, but what is the name that you would like me to use? If you want me to use Rainbow, I’ll use Rainbow. But actually, I’m able to learn your name and I’d love to pronounce it properly.” And many, many, many students were like, “Wow, okay.”

Megan Jeffrey:

And then they were more participatory in classes and they knew that you liked them, and that you were interested in them. And that’s really all it is. It’s about connecting, it all goes back to connecting.

Norah Jones:

You made an effort, the description of just making an effort, there’s two things in there. One is, well, the reputation that we have in the United States in particular, that we can’t, but underlying it is because we won’t. But we can and we should. I’m thinking about when we had a young Swedish lady in an exchange in my school when I was teaching in Central Virginia.

Norah Jones:

And she came into my class and the students, the student said, “I’d like you to introduce you to Bridget.” And I was pretty sure that wasn’t and I said, “Your name is?” And she said, “Barget.” And I said, “Well, why are they calling you Bridget?” And she said, “Well, it’s hard for them to pronounce.” And I turned to the American students, and I said, “This is a difficulty for you? Bridget, Barget I think you can handle that.” But they had changed the name because it wasn’t familiar. And that effort to come out of the familiarity, and to enter into the life of the other is really what you’re talking about here from the point of view of the app, from the point of view of attitude.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yeah. One thing that I’d also like to mention is there’s this concept that Americans or anybody who’s not Chinese, that Chinese is the hardest language to learn, “Oh my God, it’s crazy, it’s tonal. Oh my God.” Throws you for a loop. And I get a lot of people who would tell me, “Oh, no, Megan, I can’t, I’m not good at languages and I can’t learn this tongue.” But my retort to that is one, you’ve already learned a language, but two, there are over a billion people who speak Mandarin, and you don’t think any, some of them have learning disabilities, speech impediments, those kind of things. I mean, who are you to say that you can’t do something when it is a part of our human nature? And in fact, a lot of the sounds that Chinese makes, in English, we’re already saying these sounds, it’s just that there are different places. So the way my American English brain works is I break it down into how I would perceive a language, and therefore can teach it accordingly. But it’s very simple actually.

Norah Jones:

The workshops that you do, the comedy that you do, helps to inform people about how language is fun, can be played with, and that they’re capable of it.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

It’s neat.

Megan Jeffrey:

And then also that language is a connector and it’s not something that’s exclusive and a thing to shut someone out. Language is meant to connect people and that’s really all it is.

Norah Jones:

Well, and I’m going to go back to your big picture, which is that we’re not using language, when we’re doing our best, to be extractive, but rather to celebrate, elevate and join with others. When people come and they download Lectia, how is their experience? What are some of the things they can experience? So that if I’m saying, “Okay, I’m interested in the app. When I get in there, what will I see?” Can you do a bit of a summary again? I know you’ve alluded to aspects of it.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yeah. I mean, first of all, first and foremost, what you can expect is huge increases in your proficiency levels. You’re going to gain so much. I mean, the levels are, they’re according to ACTFL scales and ILR levels. So it’s for anyone. People who are unaware that the ACTFL system or ILR system even exists. And then those who are trying to prepare for a test, a government test maybe, they want to be a linguist. So it runs the gamuts for everyone. And so when you go in there, what you can expect is you’re going to choose your lessons. There’s 40 lessons for each language, and I’ll read off the 12 new languages that are coming in just a moment, but you’re setting your goals. So we looked at it from a cognitive point of view or as how are we in scaling and how are we improving people’s language usage and abilities.

Megan Jeffrey:

And so part of what we do is you set the goal for your week, and throughout your day, there’s a little timer, or not a timer, but like this is how much time you spent and all this stuff, so it really keeps track of your learning. But there’s also another awesome feature, which teachers and employers really love. And that’s the PDF function. So you can go through a lesson and get a score of 80% or above, which is when you pass a lesson, it will tell you how long, that the PDF rather that you will form at the end of doing this lesson, is it’ll tell you which language level, which lesson you’ve done, what your score was, how long you spent on the language, or that particular lesson, and then you can send that over via email or text or whatever, whatever methodology you have, to your teacher or your department head, or whomever is making sure that you’re making the gains that you need.

Megan Jeffrey:

So yeah, again, teachers really love this because they can take an understanding of how their students are doing outside of the classroom. And they also get to use it as to supplement their material. So we’re not saying, “Hey, use, Lectia exclusively for your lessons.” That’s not what it’s made for. We can develop, I mean, we do develop language materials, for sure. That’s a service that we offer, which is phenomenal. But for the everyday user, or anybody, there’s no reason you can say no to this because it’s free and you don’t even have to do anything for it. [inaudible 00:41:21] no ads, nothing. So yeah, I mean, there’s that. But then there’s also, we’re a language training center for the Department of Defense. We’ve just become a language training center and we’ll be teaching you Ukrainian, Korean and Russian, and hoping to expand into other languages. And we’re in the DC area for that.

Megan Jeffrey:

But we’re also a language resource center. And so it’s a Title VI language resource center of Department of Education. And we create different teacher professional development modules, there’s a virtual summit that just finished yesterday, that was free, had over a thousand attendees, registered attendees rather. And we’re doing a lot of professional development, which was nominal. I think teachers have to do a certain number of these PD credits all the time, every year. And so we offer that for a minimal fee. And there’s just so much that we do. We’re also trying to develop African language lessons in Lectia. So one of the things that we find is that particularly in this country, in the United States, there’s a lot of African American students and they don’t have access to studying languages that are meaningful to them, and that’s a problem.

Megan Jeffrey:

And so one of the things that we hope to tackle, which we have to find somebody to fund this work, unfortunately, we do operate as a non-profit and we have to fund our own work in this way, but we are hopeful to develop many different African languages, to have them included on campuses all over, within Lectia and other materials. So yeah, if anybody out there wants to help us develop this, we’ll give you so much credit, you can have a tax write off. But we really want to develop it, so that African American students in particular have access to languages, that aren’t available to them unfortunately,

Norah Jones:

That’s such an important motive. You mentioned that there are currently 7 languages Lectia, and you’re about to add 12.

Megan Jeffrey:

Yes.

Norah Jones:

Would you like to [inaudible 00:43:32]?

Megan Jeffrey:

So the 12 languages include Bosnian, Burmese, Croatian, Dari, German, Greek Indonesian, Pashto, Portuguese, Serbian, Thai, and Vietnamese. And so we’ll have 19 languages in the fall. And we just want to add more. There’s so much more that we can do. I mean, 19 languages out of all the world’s languages, I mean, we’re just starting and that’s, what’s great about the NFLC, is that we’ve got such a noble goal, but our hearts are all behind it. So as soon as we find financial sources to do this work, we do it and we do it well. And there’s no other organization I’ve ever seen that does it as well.

Norah Jones:

So I’ve just really enjoyed how many things you and the Foreign Language Resource Center are good at. So thank you very much for that. Now, Megan, at this particular point in the podcast, I get a chance to say to you, imagine, please, all the folks that have been listening to this wonderful and informative and fun podcast. What’s the last thing that you want to be sure that you say to them before we end today, one last exhortation or invitation or repetition or something that I failed to ask you about? What would you like to say?

Megan Jeffrey:

I want to say to everybody out there that you can learn a language, you have all the necessary qualities and components and skills to learn another language. And it doesn’t matter if you do consider yourself someone who is particularly not good, or you’ve always thought of yourself in a certain way. Those are just thoughts. You are physiologically built to be able to learn other languages, that’s how your brain functions. So I would exhort everyone to stop and go, first of all, download Lectia. It’s free, there’s no ads. And if you don’t like it, you just get rid of it. You will like it though. And also, start talking to people who are of other cultures and have different dialects.

Megan Jeffrey:

And just everyone has a different culture, no matter if it’s your sister or brother. They still have a slightly different culture than you. Learn about people and learn to value them as whole and as equal to you, and you equal to them. And just remember that you have the skills to learn the languages, and there are free things out there, that you don’t have to have the money to go and get. You can go to your library as well and get books. There are so many things. And actually the last thing I’ll say is that if you’re interested in connecting with me personally, please visit my LinkedIn page. You can find me, Megan Jeffrey, if you just put in Megan Jeffrey National Foreign Language Center, you can find me. And please feel free to reach out and connect and ask me any questions. And believe me, I love people. I’m telling you this because I love to talk to people. So that’s what I would say.

Norah Jones:

It’s evident that you love people, that warmth that you just provided in the invitation, but also in that reminder about everyone has a culture, even those in the same family. And that’s what you are all about, what the center is all about, what this podcast is all about, to be able to remind people, we’re all in this together, and language and culture are fascinating, and enjoyable, and fun, and critically important. Megan, Jeffrey, thank you so much for being my guest today. It’s been a great pleasure and I look forward to future conversations. You have so much to offer so many people, and thank you for sharing that.

Megan Jeffrey:

Well, thank you so much for having me. And I’m pretty verbose, but thanks for being patient and mining the gems that are within my conversation. So thank you so much, the pleasure was really all mine.

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