Episode 87 – Inviting You to Reflect With Edgar Serrano, NNELL President-Elect

Episode 87 | Reflection Series | Guest Edgar Serrano NNELL President-Elect.
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 87 - Inviting You to Reflect With Edgar Serrano, NNELL President-Elect

“Look at the time frame if we begin learning language as children – how much more we can do as adults! We need to create more opportunities for all students where they can use these skills.”

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Edgar Serrano lives “reflection” in his work with language education for the youngest learners, university students, and adult learners, and in connecting language with business. Edgar stays AWARE of the WHY of language in the lives of all people. In doing so, he provides pathways to opportunity through language who are most in need of equitable access, and pathways to fulfillment for those who come to recognize in language the essence of expressing their identity.

So when I heard that he was the new President-Elect of NNELL, the National Network for Early Language Learning, I wanted to be sure to get his latest reflection on the impact of his work over the years in language learning on our youngest members of society.

Edgar, with his generous spirit and his research- and data-informed professionalism, immediately looked forward, into the WHY we need more programs and support.

Here is where YOU come in.

Learn about — or confirm and grow your knowledge of — the power of early language learning on the skills and self-confidence of our young ones.

Get involved. If you have an early language program in your community or for your family, engage with the educational teams. See how you can support and advocate. If there’s not a program, advocate for one. Collaborate with parents/guardians, businesses, community organizations, your neghbors, anyone, to bring the power of language into the lives of children. The NNELL website is a great place to start for resources, ideas, and people that can help.

Learn more by listening to Edgar’s previous podcasts with me: Episode 16 on language education specifically; Episode 58 on the positive and powerful impact of multilingualism on our national well-being, health, prosperity, and security.

Check out Edgar’s biography and resources, and connect with him to learn more.

The time is critical, dear readers and listeners: as we lose programs, we empoverish our future, and we shut doors of opportunity to all of our young people. All.

But WITH open doors to language, especially at the earliest, most brain-receptive ages, we bring joy and opportunity into our collective future.

Enjoy the podcast.

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Fluency Consulting | Its About Language Episode 87 Edgar Serrano

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Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


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

Richard Brecht


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

Terri Marlow

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.

Click here to start a conversation.


Episode 16

Episode 58

Edgar Serrano Bio


0:00:04.0 Norah Jones: I have mentioned several times in this podcast series that I got started doing podcast in September of 2020, because when the pandemic locked us all down, I was desperate to not lose contact with the amazing friends and colleagues that I have in the world of world language.

0:00:30.7 Norah Jones: Amazing educators, those in business and those just living each day, language for the fun of it, for the life of it, for the learning of it. And when I talked to those folks, I wanted you to hear from them too. I wanted you to have a new friend and to learn new things and to find new ways of engaging in the world. Now that we’re taking a look at a transition out of the lockdown of the pandemic, but into a challenging world, which language can help so much to make a place of hope rather than despair, I’m going back to a couple of the podcast guests that I had over this two and a half years to ask them to reflect on what they have experienced. And the prompt has come from them winning awards, being elected to new positions, taking on new responsibilities of leadership. I wanted to bring them back for a brief reflection with us all to see what they had learned and what they could invite us to do. The guest for this week is Edgar Serrano. Edgar Serrano has been my guest twice because Edgar is just full of the energy and passion and commitment that could have him speaking to us every day to our great benefit.

0:01:57.8 Norah Jones: In episode 16, we focused on Edgar as the educator that had come out of the business world, out of Mexico into the United States and became part of the educational community, both for young children and in his position at the University of Mississippi. We talked about how young children learn and how university students learn and why an articulated extended sequence of study is so important in order to be able to provide language as the tool for life for those who study it. Then in episode 58, I tapped on Edgar’s business background because Edgar is a wealth of understanding of the data points and of the brain studies that help us to understand the power of language in use in the world in work. Its nature in the keeping of our national security, whatever nation we’re in, the diplomacy, business, connections of all kinds across the human condition, across the world. Two really important episodes, episodes 16 and 58, I hope you’ll listen to them. Then Edgar was elected the president-elect of the National Network of Early Language Learning. NNELL. I thought, let’s get Edgar to reflect on, again, the learning of language, especially starting at the very youngest ages, how that affects the brain, how that affects opportunity, how that affects justice.

0:03:36.8 Norah Jones: Edgar is a powerful innovator in this way. And as we were recording the podcast, Edgar received notice that he had been selected as the 2022/23 diversity innovator at the University of Mississippi, where he is, in fact, the language instructor. So I’m congratulating him for being elected president-elect of NNELL, for receiving this diversity innovator award, for all the work that he’s doing, and to bring him to you, as in this podcast, we take a look at language for the early language learner, the implications for their lives, for their opportunities, for how they think, how they achieve in school, how they achieve beyond school, what their options are for the future. My friends, you will enjoy Edgar Serrano, I know, always, as you listen to him. But remember, I’m asking him in this reflection, as I ask all those that I’m tapping for reflections, to say, not only, what is it that you have said that you can reflect on and apply now to what’s happening, specifically in this case, to the kinds of awards and positions, but what is it that your vision is? Now I’m asking this of Edgar this time, and of others that I’m asking for reflections, but I’m also asking about it for you.

0:05:06.4 Norah Jones: What comes next? You have been through the pandemic. You are now coming out and emerging, as it were, and blinking into the sunlight. What is it that you have learned? Where are you standing now that you weren’t standing, say, two years ago? Where are you envisioning you going, specifically in the use of language in your life? How does your past inform your present, and how will it inform your future? With Edgar Serrano, I ask him again, what can you tell us yet again about what’s been happening with early language learning in this country and in the world? How can we support the work that you are doing with NNELL, and how can NNELL support those who are engaged with early language learning as educators, as community members, as parents and guardians, as friends? Finally, what do you, Edgar, and what do you, dear listeners, want to see happen in the future that can make the lives of individuals, communities, societies stronger and healthier through language, through the power of the miracle of human language? Enjoy this podcast with Edgar Serrano. Think about it, what it is, again, that you are going to learn, how you can become engaged, what kinds of opportunities are found for you that he brings to your attention, what kind of impact you want to make in the world. Enjoy this brief reflection podcast with guest Edgar Serrano.

0:06:54.8 Norah Jones: Well, Edgar Serrano, it’s a pleasure. I always enjoy talking with you.

0:07:00.5 Edgar Serrano: Thank you, Nora. It’s the same. It’s always so nice to see you and to chat with you.

0:07:04.4 Norah Jones: And right now, as we’re recording, there’s a phenomenal, beautiful picture of piñatas in a market in Mexico. And I hope that you will continue to enjoy your visit with your family there during the holiday season. Just finished coming from the national meeting and you have provided an announcement. And I’d like to congratulate you that you are the president of the National Network for Early Language Learning, NNELL, is the acronym. Congratulations, Edgar.

0:07:36.8 Edgar Serrano: Well, thank you. Thank you. Yes, I was just named president-elect for the organization. And I’m super excited about it because, as you know, kids have been my passion for a long time, especially early language learners. It’s so crucial that we support that type of organizations to help new teachers that are coming into the field. And I’m just so excited to work with NNELL. It’s those people working there, every teacher that is there is full of energy, passion. And of course, as teachers, we like to help and share. So if you know of any teachers that are joining the field or maybe they feel like they’re by themselves and they would like to get support, they can come to NNELL. And we have tools for them. We have all the support that they need. And it’s a great organization to join. They have all these meetings. And actually, this Saturday is happening, like the PJs meeting, where it’s more like a networking, talking, sharing, finding what is needed, planning. So all that is so important to have clear goals and to set a program that is going to be successful for the kids to learn and to grow with language.

0:08:56.8 Norah Jones: Such a powerful invitation. You jumped right into the action that people can take, which is so much a part of your style. And thank you again for correcting me. It says president-elect, so it’s looking forward to these upcoming years of leadership continuing. Let’s take a look back for just a second. What is it about early language learning, Edgar, that you have experienced both inside this organization and in the work that you have done that leads you to the passion that you already demonstrated in what you just said?

0:09:33.2 Edgar Serrano: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind when you asked me that question is that it’s just fun. It’s just so nice to really see those kids interact with you and to give you so much love, passion, and desire for learning. They don’t have limits, and they’re ready to learn. And if you have a program that is set for them to be engaged, they just take it and they just grow with it. And then you start getting emails from parents like, “Oh my gosh, my kid was counting in the play yard or something like that.” They’re just using it. “We were in the car and my kids started singing the numbers. Oh my gosh.” That’s how kids are. They just absorb it. And it is so important that we realize that we need to become more aware of this opportunity that the kids have and to create opportunities for them to learn it because if… A lot of programs are disappearing. My school also closed in 2021. So there are not many schools who really support early language learning. And if you look at the timeframe that we can have if we start at a younger age, how much we are going to be able to do when we become adults. I also teach at the college level, and I can see how all these mental games starts changing and we become more conscious about making mistakes. We want to be perfect.

0:11:10.8 Edgar Serrano: We want to learn immediately. So that’s why I think it’s so important to start early. And something that we need to do with NNELL and with JNCL, because NNELL is also a big supporter of JNCL-NCLIS where we advocate for world languages, it’s so important that we start and create awareness because many times what I see, the programs that have these immersion programs, these ways of learning, there are certain states, but if you look in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, I don’t know, Louisiana, the South, mainly they are more like public private schools. The ones that are teaching a second language. So I think it’s important that we create more opportunities for all students. If we can start just sharing the importance of learning a language at a young age to help them be competitive in a global world where they can really use these skills and come into college full force to really just prepare themselves better to compete, to become great diplomats, to create protection for our country. So many ways that they can use those skills. I was just sharing with you earlier before we got started that I just got hit with this news that my former student from, I think he was my first grade when I first had him.

0:12:43.7 Edgar Serrano: Now he’s going to be my college student. And it just blew my mind. But also it made me realize how fast time just flies. And if we can invest our time and dedication to teach these kids early, they’re not going to come to elementary Spanish in college. They’re going to come into more advanced way where they can really start making language a little more proficient. They can have a stronger narrative. They can start building blocks to really negotiate and to be again, competitive.

0:13:23.2 Norah Jones: So that opportunity that you have referred to several times, historically speaking, not only is the opportunity to take a language per se, which is fun, but opportunity then to make use of the language in their own future in ways that might be closed to them without another language. You’ve probably seen evidence of that as you continue to work with those who are also engaged with elementary programs around the country. Correct?

0:13:52.5 Edgar Serrano: I know you’re… Correct. And many times when we are teaching the little kids, we are exposing them to a new culture. We are sharing ideas. We are talking about the world. I used to teach them about money, currency, things that were very interesting for them, the way we celebrate something, eating, the way we prepare food.

0:14:15.7 Edgar Serrano: Maybe that some countries like to eat something spicy. And even though it sounds so simple, that really opens their world to a different idea because and I want to talk a little bit about where I live in Mississippi. We live in a community that many times kids do not have opportunities to travel or opportunities to really explore the world. So how can you help them have a vision of what is out there? And if we have programs that open that now they are with technology, we can connect them to other countries. We can bring things to them easier. But we have to provide the programs in all schools and we have to make sure that they are exposed to that. And it’s not only about also culture. It’s going to help them in the long way with critical thinking, with listening skills, taking a test, with when they become adults. There’s research that says that it helps with your memory. And so there are a lot of benefits that we need to highlight. And through organizations like NNELL and through JNCL-NCLIS where we can advocate and teach and share ideas to construct strong programs to support teachers and to educate others that are not in our circle of educators, we can make a difference in our world.

0:15:49.8 Edgar Serrano: Because many times people think, well, everybody speaks English. Well, yes and no. English is a universal language, but there are levels of proficiency and connection and human relationships cannot just be done through computers. Just think about a smile that somebody gives you, a word of encouragement, helping you, making you feel good, understanding a joke. All those things makes us human and connects us. So if we start early and start learning a second language, we have more opportunities to have better relationships professionally and globally too.

0:16:33.0 Norah Jones: Powerful words, as is typical for you, my dear friend. When you take a look now at the role that you’re playing as president-elect, the upcoming presidency and the work that you will do in collaboration with others, which I know is a strong suit of yours, what are you especially excited about bringing to the leadership that you will have then in NNELL? What kind of vision do you have for the organization and its future?

0:17:05.4 Edgar Serrano: I’m so blessed to be among such amazing leaders already in NNELL, right? So but my vision is to really create more opportunities or more awareness for others in small communities to come and feel supported and to grow and to build programs in places that do not exist. So I think that’s what I would like to see. I would like to see more programs created here in the state of Mississippi and other rural areas, find grants, support from the government, continue advocating for them to see the importance of supporting programs at an early age. So that’s what I would like to do, to continue growing with that.

0:17:56.0 Norah Jones: Thank you. And you connect back to what you said earlier that young ones, learners in small areas, rural areas may not have had the same opportunities in their family circle, their community circle, to have been exposed to the world. This would help them to be able to have that exposure. Have I heard you correctly on that, Edgar?

0:18:20.2 Edgar Serrano: Correct. When we think about it, and I think I would mention earlier that the ones that are getting second language education, more exposure, are those who may have more resources. They have parents that can pay a private school. They can pay a different course. They can take them to a trip. So how can we create equity in language through learning if we cannot listen to others? Because then what is going to happen, of course, the ones that are going to be more successful are the ones who have all the support, right?

0:18:55.7 Edgar Serrano: So I see this, especially at the college, when I get my students and immediately the ones who have had prior knowledge are the ones who are more confident. They want to participate. And those who have never had exposure become very shy. And it is very difficult to help them grow because it becomes a mental game. So if we can start early and we can help them see that they can also do it, and we have support from the government for all of it, because there are so many talented kids out there. So you just have to have the confidence for doing it. And we need to give the support to the teachers who are overworked, who have so many things going on. So again, by being part of an organization like NNELL and JNCL-NCLIS, we can provide the support, those tools needed to help them grow as teachers, to provide the right proficiency tools to their students, and to keep advocating to their community, to their administrators, and to our officials. So it is so important that we all get involved. And if anybody’s looking to be part of a great organization and needs support, just come to NNELL. We’ll help you.

0:20:16.0 Norah Jones: Well, and that actually was the direction I was going to go next, is an invitation that you might extend. And you’ve, twice now at least, extended the invitation for those that are engaged in this educational experience to come and be supported in the community of NNELL. When you bring that invitation again out here, can you also speak potentially to those who are not yet involved in the education of young ones? What you might extend that invitation on and beyond those that are already engaged, that should be more connected to NNELL potentially. How about those that are not even in the field right now?

0:20:56.9 Edgar Serrano: Well, yes, it is so important that also businesses become more part of it. Universities can also support for programs. If we get higher proficiency students, the level of university, we can create stronger programs for them to help them grow. So you don’t have to be an elementary teacher or somebody involved with little kids to support it. We have to have a vision that all this has a timeframe that is going to have to build. And if we have strong basis that everybody can support by referring a program, by giving them resources, by talking to officials, I think anybody can get involved because there is a positive end result out of this for everybody. We can create a stronger jobs. We can get better paying jobs. We can have better diplomacy and it’s going to pay off for everybody. So I think it’s so important that everybody gets involved with supporting early language programs.

0:22:17.8 Norah Jones: Great invitation. And specifically, can those that are listening to this and may be interested in learning more connect up with NNELL, connect up directly with you in order to get more information about how they can participate?

0:22:36.3 Edgar Serrano: Yes. And this organization has been since 1987. And just going back a little bit of how, you also, when you become to the field, you’re new, if you’re a male teacher too, you don’t know what to do, what resources. I’m referring because when I first started, it was a change of career for me. So having, not knowing what curriculum to do, what activities to do was overwhelming when you’re new in this profession. So NNELL provides you professional development, the resources, newsletters, inspirational stories. So the way to do it, if they just visit the NNELL, which is N-L-E-L-L.org, that is our webpage and they can find the membership, which actually, it’s very reasonable, it’s not expensive. There is summer summits that we have. We are a very dynamic community. We just had an ACTFL, it’s when we have our national meeting in a way where we connect and we have a breakfast. We had 175 people joining the breakfast.

0:23:56.9 Norah Jones: Wow.

0:23:57.2 Edgar Serrano: Boom, right there. It was amazing, amazing. And we had all these founders and people that always want to share something and networking and connection and support. And it is so important for teachers to have all these packages. Thank you.

0:24:20.2 Norah Jones: Fantastic. That’s N-N-E-L-L.org. And I look forward to folks continuing to look to the opportunities that NNELL provides. And Edgar, thank you for accepting yet again, leadership that helps to make these opportunities possible and build the confidence in our young people.

0:24:43.7 Edgar Serrano: Thank you so much. And I really appreciate you reaching out and I appreciate you highlighting this because we need to be supportive of language learning and we need to do something. We need to be involved. If it’s not with an organization with early language, support an organization that you are passionate about to help and to reach out. We need people to go out there and to knock on the doors of officials and to see the importance of language. We need to support those programs, to tell them, listen, we are here. We need to have stronger language speakers. We need multilingual learners. We need the support. We need it early and please help the community to grow.

0:25:28.9 Norah Jones: Thank you, Edgar. What an exhortation. We’ll hug that close. And again, congratulations. Thank you. And we look forward to seeing the opportunities that will come from all participating in and your leadership in NNELL. Thank you.

0:25:44.7 Edgar Serrano: Thank you. And come and join us.

0:25:48.0 Norah Jones: I hope you enjoyed this podcast with my guest, Edgar Serrano. And I hope you’ll have an opportunity to listen to his episodes 16 and 58, if you have not already done so. And I hope you’ll take advantage of those options and opportunities that he has brought to mind for you or for those that you know that can benefit from understanding where you’ve been, where you are now and the positive impact you can have in the future through language. I look forward to welcoming you for another reflection next week, this time with guest Amanda Seewald, who has been appointed Executive Director of JNCL-NCLIS, a national advocacy organization, beginning in January 2023. Until then, have a wonderful week.

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