Episode 104 – Leaping Past Language Barriers – Jessica Haxhi

Its About Language Episode 104
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 104 - Leaping Past Language Barriers - Jessica Haxhi

“Google Translate will never be able to look into someone’s eyes and give them the full attention and make those connections like you can if you speak that language.”

This podcast conversation with Jessica illustrates both the breadth and depth of the impact of language in the human community and the importance of its being the focus of the educational offering for all children – all citizens of ouor interconnected world of both the present and the future.

So I’m going to invite you to slow down, read carefully, and meditate on the importance and impact of these various statements from Jessica, focused on areas of critical importance to us all. What have you experienced in each of these categories? How do these insights reflect what you know about your own life and work and that of others around you? What does each insight ask you to DO?

There will soon be 9 billion people on this planet:

How can you think about ‘other’ when you haven’t experienced much of anything different?

We’re really suffering from a sort of myopic pandemic here where we’re only hearing the same, seeing the same.

You have to look for other sources to know what’s really going on in the world.

Humans are born to connect; language, both spoken and unspoken, gets us there:

It’s really about giving people your absolute full attention when you’re with them.

Trust is built incrementally, in small moments.

If you have something to talk about that is visual, you don’t really need that much language.

Our humanity is expressed and grown through language and the cultures in which it lives — and language is additive to our identity and to our impact on the world and our future:

It is so important to look at languages as an asset and not something that we need to help heritage speakers forget, but something that we need to help them remember and maintain and build.

[It’s] absolutely critical to give kids the skills, experiences and attitudes we need them to have for this world to survive for the next hundred years.We can bring them a lot of that in World Language. We can bring them those skills because we can show them how to interact with cultural competence. We can bring them those experiences if we’re the ones taking them on trips and also having them do role plays and having them see videos and also interact with pen pals and whatnot. And then we’re the ones who can give them those attitudes by modeling those attitudes and by having them meet people from different backgrounds.

Jessica Haxhi bio and resources

Jessica Haxhi has been the Supervisor of World Languages for New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut since 2013, overseeing 85 teachers and seven languages. She was President of ACTFL in 2021 and is a past President of AATJ. She served on the NECTFL Board from 2006-2010, the ACTFL-NCSSFL Can-Do Statements Committee, and the CT COLT Board.  Previously, Jessica taught Japanese for 20 years and taught world language methods at local universities in CT. She has received the Milken Family Foundation National Teacher Award (2002), the U.S.-Japan Foundation Elgin Heinz Outstanding Japanese Teacher Award (2008), and the International Women’s Day New Haven Award for Outstanding Public Service (2019).   


Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind

Teaching with Love and Logic

Parenting with Love and Logic

ACTFL World-Readiness Standards

ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines

ACTFL-NCSSFL Can Do Statements and Intercultural Can-Do Statements

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

ACTFL Diversity. Equity, & Inclusion Resources

New Haven Public Schools World Languages Website

Seal of Biliteracy Information

Enjoy the podcast.

Click to listen:



0:00:04.5 Norah Jones: I’m looking forward so much today to sharing with you, my guest, Jessica Haxhi. After the recording of this podcast, Jessica and I were continuing to talk about opportunities and motivations for students and the gifts that students can bring to the future in the world. And she used this phrase, “It’s not so much anymore, the haves and the have-nots, as it is the travel and the travel-nots.” In this conversation today, I know you’ll enjoy Jessica Haxhi’s enthusiasm, insight, commitment, and those thoughtful expressions of what the future holds, where language and cultural understanding play a central role. Take a look also on my website, fluency.consulting for information about Jessica and for specific resources that she is sharing with us to help us continue our journey into the future with the knowledge of language and culture. Enjoy the podcast.


0:01:21.6 Norah Jones: So it’s great to be able to talk with you today, Jessica Haxhi. How are you today?

0:01:27.1 Jessica Haxhi: I’m doing well, Norah. Thank you so much for having me. It’s so great to be here and to spend some time with you. It’s always my pleasure to get to talk with you.

0:01:36.4 Norah Jones: Well, and I sure appreciate it especially since we’re recording this at the end of an academic year when you basically have only five minutes to breathe, eat, sleep, and otherwise try to pull yourself together. I’d like to make sure, although I do have it also in the introduction, that folks recognize that you’re coming from an extraordinarily rich variety of leadership positions and experiences in your ability to work today with the questions that we have, with the concerns that we might be expressing and with the vision that you bring. You are President of ACTFL, The National World Language organization in 2021 and continued to serve in various capacities as past President. And for the last about 11 years, right? You have been the supervisor of World Languages for New Haven Public Schools. And New Haven Public Schools has approximately how many students and how many teachers that you work with, Jessica?

0:02:41.7 Jessica Haxhi: So we have about 20,000 students in the district, and I have about 85 teachers teaching languages in grades K-12. We teach eight languages here, Arabic, ASL, French, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Spanish and… Oh, Chinese, Mandarin Chinese.

0:03:03.1 Norah Jones: Jessica, you have a lot of people that you’re working with there. That’s an extremely large community, and I’m really excited about what you’ll be sharing from your perspective of the implications of having that many people, the various directions that New Haven Connecticut is as far as its social grounding and the types of folks that are found in that community. But I also want to start with something that has to do with your personal life. You are a Japanese teacher, Albanian last name, so you have a personal story that I would love for folks to hear so that they can combine that and appropriately so by the way, with your professional career.

0:03:47.4 Jessica Haxhi: Well, thanks for asking. A lot of people do ask me why I started learning Japanese. And I don’t know if it’s a funny story, but there’s a story when I was in… So in high school, I studied French, but I had some teachers… A teacher, a specific actual history teacher in high school who inspired me to want to learn Spanish in college because he was really, really involved with social justice and Latin America. And he had done trips to Nicaragua, and he taught us about all of that, and he taught us about Amnesty International. And a side of the news that I really hadn’t known about from the four channels that we used to watch on television. And he taught me that you really have to… You have to look for other sources to know what’s really going on in the world, and that there’s a lot of social justice that we can do on our own. He inspired my friends and a bunch of us to study Spanish in college.

0:04:46.6 Jessica Haxhi: So I was doing that and I was very excited to myself to travel to Central America to do study abroad, and this was 1988. So now you’re figuring out how old I am. But I went to my father who had only been to a few maybe… I know he had been to Puerto Rico and that is it. Because he was in the army band. And other than that, he’s not a traveler. And I said to him, “I really want to go. I’m going to Costa Rica for study abroad.” And he said, “Have you been watching the news lately because Nicaragua and the Sandinistas and the Contras and El Salvador, and that’s all we hear about, and you’re going to go down there and it’s not safe, and I’m not letting you go and I’m not paying for it.” And he said, “If you go to your college office and ask them what the safest country is in the world, maybe you can go.” And so that’s what I did, and I knew nothing about Japan and nothing about Japanese. And they said Japan, and I said, “Okay, whatever.” And I went [laughter] because he said I could go.

0:05:46.8 Jessica Haxhi: And I called him out on it, I said, “You said if it was safe I could go.” And so I went to Japan and I absolutely loved it. And I think it may have been because it was the first time I really practiced my language in a real world setting. That’s part of it. I loved Spanish as well, but I had never had the opportunity to really practice it this way, and I’m sure if I had gone to Costa Rica, I would have fallen in love there. And I use much more Spanish now in my daily life than Japanese actually. And I did end up going back to Costa Rica with my family for a summer in the last 10 years, so. But that’s the story. And another piece of the pie is that I fly model airplanes as my hobby and I always have since I was young. And the model airplane companies are very prevalent in Japan, and so the minute I got there, they all started taking me places on the weekend, and I started flying there a lot, and that was another way that I experienced sort of deep culture right away.

0:06:49.3 Norah Jones: That’s interesting. And I have to tap on that. You went to Japan as an outsider, but because of your personal interest you begin to create culturally connections that then led to a falling in love with and work with the language. That has got to play a role, if I may reach out in that way, take that risk with you in that way. That’s got to play a role, that particular part of your story in how you have addressed your own educational approaches, both in the classroom and with other teachers. Am I right?

0:07:31.1 Jessica Haxhi: Yeah, I think what it taught me was… It’s so funny, I’ve never thought about this before, Norah, which is often what happens when I talk with you. I learned very early on that if you have something to talk about that is visual, like a model airplane engine, you don’t really need that much language. And so that was my first time in Japan, and I was spending every weekend with a bunch of men basically looking at model airplane engines and figuring it out. And we had no problem because we had a thing we were talking about that we were looking at. And then the language laid itself on top of that for me. And I think that that’s the kind of teacher I’ve always been. For me, the use of visuals has come very naturally, and to me, I always say to my teachers, “I’m going to have it tattooed on my forehead, visuals, visuals, visuals,” because I think they’re the key to target languages, so the key to making students feel comfortable in the classroom. And they’re the key to communicating culture in ways that you can’t just get by talking to them about a place. So yeah, I think it did impact me.

0:08:37.0 Norah Jones: Hear that. It sounds like it’s often a different way of approaching language instruction, including the kind of language instruction of my array of listeners globally who may or may not have ever taken language in school or may not have actually thought about what you’ve just said. So when you bring that insight to others, what are some of the reactions and what are some of the discoveries then that they continue to make and what are the impact for students that you have seen?

0:09:09.3 Jessica Haxhi: So I think a big challenge in our profession, world languages especially, is that we were taught in a particular way, a lot of us. And I think it’s safe to say that around the world, it was a very similar way when we were… My age was young, it was very grammar-based, it was very word-based, reading and writing-based, and there was very little use of visuals until we got to the real country where it was visual. And so I think that… I encourage my teachers to use… In fact, I encourage them to use visuals exclusively for the first three days that they’re teaching vocabulary to students. And I find myself saying, “I promise you, we’re going to give them the words later, but just try it.” And I find that the teachers who believe me and try it that way find that what happens is, if students can internalize a vocabulary word with just a visual, then they’ve learned what that thing is without the interruption of English or the interruption of the word.

0:10:17.6 Jessica Haxhi: So my favorite example is, if you’re doing the weather every day in part of your daily routine and you have a picture of the sun, the clouds, the wind, the rain. And you just point to it, which is what I do in my teaching. Then students are like… They’re just like, oh, hare is sunny in Japanese, right? Or in Spanish is a good example, hace sol. They just learn hace sol. And then when you finally show the word, then they have that moment where they figure out that hace is not “Hayce Saul” right? That it’s hace and that H is silent and all that. But if you put hace sol up… If you put the word under the picture from day one, 90% of English speakers are not going to listen to you say hace sol. They’re going to think in their brains “Hayce Saul.”

0:11:11.6 Jessica Haxhi: And it is very difficult to un-teach that. So I try to model that for teachers by showing them Japanese words and then trying to un-teach it, but I really think that’s a powerful… And I’m not saying that we never show the kids the words, I’m saying the first interactions they have with the words, show them just the visuals, and then they internalize that pronunciation. And then later lay on the words and now they’re like, “Oh, that’s how Spanish works. That’s how French works. That must be silent, that must be pronounced this way.” And it’s just… That’s what has always worked for me for Japanese. And another thing is because I was a Japanese teacher, my kids couldn’t read what I put up there anyway. So that’s what taught me that this method works.

0:11:55.7 Norah Jones: I can’t help but rush into that particular zone that you’ve opened up because in my workshops, I’m always mentioning language is sound. And writing is a technology that has captured the sound in a certain way. And we as a literate society often mistake the written word for language when in fact it’s just a representation of the language that is happening. That’s a hard nut to crack sometimes because we’re literate and with good reason, I don’t say it, but you have a technique there that certainly brings that to mind and as an interesting and sometimes difficult practice for educators, I presume.

0:12:39.2 Jessica Haxhi: It is. And this past year, I taught high school again. I taught one class I wanted to just because I missed the kids and I wanted to get a little of my street cred back with the teachers too. And I understand that in high school, even the kids can push back… Not push back on you about that because they feel like they can’t learn the language without seeing it. But to me it’s the same argument as if you want to speak the target language in your class, you might have some kids who are like, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” Trust is built in small moments. So you have to teach the kids that they’re never going to be asked to do something that they’re not capable of doing. So there’s no test happening right now. I’m just asking you to relax, play with the words with me without the word.

0:13:28.8 Jessica Haxhi: Play with the new vocabulary with me without the word under it for just a little while. We’re going to play with flash cards, we’re going to do slapping game or Matamoscas in Spanish. We’re going to do all those kinds of things without the words. Trust me, it’s going to work. And the kids come to believe you. It’s almost like you have to teach them how to learn a language. And the other… Younger kids, you don’t have to do that, they just go with the flow, right? But it’s also about how our brain works. So obviously, if you’re starting a language after your brain has started to snip away all of those dendrites that would help you be good at language learning, it’s going to be harder and you’re going to feel like you need to filter it through the ways that you know how to learn.

0:14:13.4 Jessica Haxhi: And so that’s another sort of thing that we have to overcome when we’re starting languages so late. But it still is possible. So dendrites aren’t going forever, they just have to need to be rebuilt. And so again, I feel like that’s another reason why it’s so important for us to teach in the target language as much as possible with the support of visuals. And so my kids know that… This is… I say it all the time. You will not understand everything I say and you shouldn’t, right? Or else you don’t belong in this class. But you will always understand what you’re supposed to do to be successful. And if there’s a moment you don’t understand what to do and that’s upsetting you, then you let me know.

0:14:53.5 Norah Jones: You used an amazing phrase as you were describing this particular approach that said, “Trust is built in small increments.” And I’d like you to expand a little bit on that because you have a broad picture with the roles that you take, with the intentionality that you bring to the world in your profession. What role does this trust building, these small increments, these… What we’ll do play in where we are currently in world language ed and language usage too, in the society, and where we’re headed, where we can be, what are some of the thoughts that you share?

0:15:50.0 Jessica Haxhi: So first I’d just like to say a little bit about that phrase and how it has helped me as a leader and as a teacher. And I learned it sort of in conjunction, I really love the book Teaching with Love & Logic, and so I’ll make sure that’s available, the link to you for this podcast. And they have another book about Parenting With Love & Logic. And it’s really about giving people your absolute full attention when you’re with them. And it applies to everyone, to your own child, to your students, to your teachers, to the custodian, like to whoever it is at that moment. And it’s really hard in our society now, but it’s really important to stop and look in that person’s eyes and breathe and talk to them. And in addition, as a leader, I really see it all the time where teachers come to me, they ask a question, I have to pause and think like, “This is really important to this person. My day has been really crazy, but this thing is really important to this person. So let me hear it, let me hear it and let me think how I can help with it or solve it, or support them in it.”

0:17:02.3 Jessica Haxhi: And that, it also means that it takes time to build relationships, but if you can be trustworthy over time to be there for people, that’s when I think you really reach… That’s when you really start to enjoy being a leader and they start to enjoy having you as a leader, and the same with students. Like I just now, maybe the last two months, feel that close with my students that they really trust me completely. Like I can walk out of that classroom and they would behave, type of thing. But coming back to the other thing that you mentioned, what we’ll probably talk about in a minute is I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the future of World Language Learning needs are. Are we really going to… Some scary thoughts, but are we really going to need to teach kids how to read and write? I mean, Google Translate is getting so good, let’s just say it like it is, that anything that they could access online anyway could be instantly translated enough for them to get the gist.

0:18:05.9 Jessica Haxhi: Anything that they might want to write, they’re going to be able to upload and it will translate it enough for it to be good enough, not perfect, of course. Right? We can talk about that, but. So it’s going to become… But the one thing you cannot… I don’t think Google Translate is ever going to do well, who knows, is intermediate, mid or higher speaking. And the ability to do that with cultural competence. So those two things together combined with the same notion of… Google Translate will never be able to look into someone’s eyes and give them the full attention and make those connections like you can if you speak that language. So to me, it’s never going to go away, the need to learn other languages for true connection. It might go away, the need to learn other languages for simple communication at the below intermediate… At the novice level, honestly, or the back and forth, sort of quick level, but to have real deep conversations and communicate complex topics on everything from feelings that are complex to international agreements that are complex, you’re always going to need a speaker.

0:19:19.2 Norah Jones: We might take a look at two types of directions, one where tapping on what you said about the real humanity is going to be in the intermediate and above level of proficiency, as we’re referring now to the actual scales of proficiency that world language teachers refer to in the United States. Anyway, and then there’s the European levels that are into the B and C levels of this equivalency that we either are like, well, then we need to make sure that if we’re going to have true human interaction, let’s start children early when they can learn easily, well, thoroughly and really make it their own. Or the second possible thread is, well, then we’ll just be good enough, except for a few that will go on to those kinds of upper echelon work things that might come to your mind and others. Where are we headed? What’s going to happen?

0:20:28.2 Jessica Haxhi: I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. And I think a lot depends on us. If we as a profession do not realize what’s coming and what students want to be learning right now, and what they need to be learning right now, and what kinds of topics engage them in language learning and what kinds of motivations will drive them to want to reach those higher levels, then we’re going to start to lose programs quickly, first of all. Because I do think that we have a lot to offer language learners in our classrooms, but not… If there’s any of us who are still teaching, if we’re only getting kids, for example, to the… Only graduating kids at novice levels, the need for that is probably going to dissipate. If we’re only teaching…

0:21:27.7 Jessica Haxhi: If we’re only teaching in a grammar-driven way where the kids are not seeing the real world purpose of what they’re learning or finding some motivation to continue or to make a difference in the world with the language they’re learning, the kids aren’t going to come to our classes. That’s how important this conversation is really. So I was so honored to be invited to speak at NECTFL, Northeast Conference back in, I think it was March. And so I tried to think about what are the things that we need to offer students now, and I’ve started thinking, it’s something beyond Google. So I’m not sure if all of your listeners know, but in the United States, we talk about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and actually you do worldwide as the SDGs. So I’ve started thinking about what are the SBGs, like the skills beyond Google that we can give students. [laughter]

0:22:27.7 Norah Jones: Nice.

0:22:28.8 Jessica Haxhi: And I think those really consist of intermediate, mid or better, high-level speaking skills, but also just that, like we were saying, the intercultural competence, the ability to understand cultural and linguistic nuances, the ability to solve real world problems with their language, the ability to have spontaneous communication skills is also important. So not just that. Another thing that Google Translate won’t be able to do is react in the moment the way you would if you were in any kind of situation really in a culture that speaks another language.

0:23:04.5 Jessica Haxhi: And also just the ability to synthesize thought and language is something that we can offer students as we are sure to combine what they’re learning about how to speak in a language with high level concepts that they’re working on. Which I can explain more about in a second but… And then just sort of the ability to be internationally relevant. If you haven’t experienced learning other languages or speaking other languages in your home, it gets a lot harder for you to be a proficient traveler and a proficient even participant in an international meeting. So these are all things that we can offer students. And then on a more human note, just the joy of learning other languages and of being able to meet other people via learning those languages. And those are great motivations, but I don’t know if they’re enough anymore.

0:24:01.6 Norah Jones: Well, interestingly said. Now you alluded to some of the cognitive and things that students are focusing on. Go ahead and explain more what it is that you have been sharing about those things and the insights that you have.

0:24:18.9 Jessica Haxhi: Sure, I think that if we… All it takes is a quick Google survey of your students. Ask your students why are they here? The first thing you might find is that if you ask them what they’re here to learn, almost all of them will probably say that they’re here to learn to speak. Very few of them will answer, I’m here to learn to write sentences or translate or whatnot, they’re going to say, I want to speak. So in a way, that’s the good news, because that’s the skill that actually… That, I think, is going to be the biggest challenge for commercial translators to figure out, is also the skill I think that all of us think we’re doing, and few of us are. And me too. I found that this year it was very hard to get students to speak as much as when I was teaching younger students and before the pandemic too.

0:25:12.2 Jessica Haxhi: So it’s definitely our biggest challenge area. My department has been focusing on interpersonal speaking for two years, and we just got our Apple scores back, the proficiency test scores back, and the teacher said, “Let’s focus on it for next year too,” when they saw the scores. So it’s really a challenge to get kids to talk at all and to each other right now. And then the other things I think that we need to think about is, what’s important to our kids right now? Climate change is important to them. Social justice is important to them. Social media is important to them. So there are things that… You don’t have to force a kid to check TikTok, you don’t have to force a kid to… Nowadays, to go out and protest and they want to be a part of civil discourse. We just have to find ways. And they want to help their own communities too. And we just need to harness that for our own… To motivate them to learn languages, via those actions.

0:26:18.0 Norah Jones: It sounds challenging when you have a generation that has been, especially through a traumatic ongoing global event, such as the pandemic, and a variety of the stressors that you just refer to. When the teachers may be multiple generations that do not have this particular approach. Inter-generational differences have always been there, of course, but strikes me again that these are some more deep or profound experiences that are dividing a little bit. How then do you, Jessica, help in providing directions that people can go so that the students are accessing what they need in a language growth program where the instructor also understands where they’re ending up?

0:27:09.9 Jessica Haxhi: Yeah, it’s an enormous challenge, especially as you said, things are happening so fast now with technology that it’s overwhelming for all of us. I mean, it’s overwhelming for me to think about what ChatGPT could do. And I’m usually the one who likes to embrace technology and think about what’s the benefits of it, but there are some things I’m just playing sort of like, “Why do we need that?” All I can do, and I’m not saying I have the answers, but all I try to do is I try to constantly think of ways for teachers to see the possibilities of the range of things they could try. I’ll support them in the technology development, whatever they need, but also show them how you can suggest this and then the kids can be the ones to do the technology. So I just got back literally half hour ago. One of our teachers participated in… Language Testing International now has something called Level Up Village, where they match schools with a partner school to exchange videos in a secure platform.

0:28:12.0 Jessica Haxhi: And one of my teachers did that with Argentina, and the kids loved it and they talked about climate change with the students in Argentina. But the thing that struck me in terms of what you’re talking about right now, is that the kids used this new app that I hadn’t heard of called CapCut, I think, where they filmed themselves speaking Spanish but in the background were all these memes popping up that relate to what they’re saying. To me, it reminded me of… That’s how I would love to be presenting is to have cool things behind me to illustrate what I’m saying. So it was just incredible. And I said to the teacher, “How did you know how to do this?” She’s like, “Oh, the kids figured it out. And then they taught each other.” And I thought that was just beautiful. It was beautiful. So to me, often technology is like the little extra hook that gets the kids to want to do the language part, but it’s great also that they’re developing skills while doing it.

0:29:04.8 Norah Jones: You refer to the students skills there and some of the things that you’re addressing are the skills that we want students to have, the experiences, the attitudes. What are some of those things that you have, keep bringing to people’s attention as we are taking a look at our young people merging into the world that does have multiple languages and cultures? What kind of skills and attitudes and experiences do they need?

0:29:30.2 Jessica Haxhi: This is one of my favorite new things to think about in terms of as a department or as a district or as a university, I think all of us should be sitting down and re-thinking those three questions. What are the skills, experiences and attitudes we want these kids to have when they leave us. The current kindergartener is the class of 2041, which sounds like a science fiction movie, right? So we really have to sit down now and re-examine what that child is going to need to be successful in 2041. And what skills they’re going to need, what experiences they’re going to need to have had, and what attitudes we want them to go out into the world with. And I think the answer is different than it might have been 20 years ago. I mean, we’ve really learned so much and we’re seeing things come down the pipe that we never even imagined before.

0:30:27.9 Jessica Haxhi: So for me, I really enjoy… For example, I really enjoy Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. It’s a little bit old now, but… And in that, he talks about, for example, the ability to synthesize information. It’s really not so much that they have a million things memorized anymore. They need to memorize some things, but they don’t need to memorize everything because they’re probably going to have sunglasses that will tell them what a word is. Who knows? But it also talks about creativity, the need for creativity, the need for intuition, the need to have a big picture view of things. And interestingly, he talks about the need for empathy as well. Yeah, I believe in all those things. I also think all those things are hard to quantify how you build those, but I absolutely believe that the key to it is making sure students see a lot of pictures, see a lot of video, interact with peers around the world and in their community who are having different experiences than they are.

0:31:36.4 Jessica Haxhi: Because one of the biggest dangers we see, and it’s everywhere in the world, but in the US especially, we have students in our cities who have never left the city. We have students in rural areas who have never left the rural area, we have people looking at social media that’s only giving them… The algorithm is only giving them reinforcement of their own beliefs. So we’re really suffering from a sort of myopic pandemic here where we’re only hearing the same, seeing the same, and once that starts to happen, it gets almost impossible to teach students any of the humanities, because how can you learn about the humanities, which involved history, English, Shakespeare, and then World Language and the arts. How can you think about other when you haven’t experienced much of anything different?

0:32:34.5 Jessica Haxhi: So to me, the world languages and exposing them to other people, other cultures, field trips, international travel. I’m very passionate about international travel, but even local travel, all those things become absolutely critical to giving kids the skills, experiences and attitudes we need them to have for this world to survive for the next hundred years. I think I got a little off track there, but I really think that those… We can bring them a lot of that in World Language. We can bring them those skills because we can show them how to interact with cultural competence. We can bring them those experiences if we’re the ones taking them on trips and also having them do role plays and having them see videos and also interact with pen pals and whatnot. And then we’re the ones who can give them those attitudes by modeling those attitudes and by having them meet people from different backgrounds.

0:33:36.0 Norah Jones: I’m going to ask you what kind of interactions that you have had with those members of not just educational community here, okay, of societies that have gotten used to a certain type of educational measurements and outcomes? The kinds of statements of what students are good at that are quantifiable, you mentioned a few moments ago that some of these things are hard to quantify. Yet there’s a lot of systems in place that are highly dependent on quantifiable measurements. What happens then as this great need that you have spoken of so clearly, in all of its different levels, comes up against the systems in place, or are they in fact changing appropriately to meet these new needs and these new approaches to what life will be like?

0:34:38.5 Jessica Haxhi: Well, that’s an interesting question. I think the area of assessment and measurement is one that is constantly being tossed around in the education field, because we are constantly… I’m in a very large district in central office, and we’re constantly in this battle in our own minds between over-assessing students and not wanting everything to be about assessment. But at the same time then saying, well, if we don’t do any assessments, how do we know whether they’re progressing? And how do we know how to address areas where we need more professional development and things like that? So, that’s a very tricky area. I can’t say that I can think of a specific example of someone outside of education I’ve talked with recently about this. But certainly we know that in the broader world, if we’re not able…

0:35:31.3 Jessica Haxhi: It’s funny, in the broader world, there are people who believe that you don’t need any languages, but at the same time, things like making languages our… Making languages our business, which is a report that was done… I can’t think… A couple, maybe five years ago now, but at that time, nine out of 10 employers said that they rely on people who speak other languages. And 56% of them said that in the next five years, that is going to grow even more. So we absolutely… The world… It’s funny, the world needs language speakers, but at the same time, there’s a lot of people who who don’t think it’s necessary, or now going way back to your measurement question, you’re right, we don’t have any… We don’t have any… There isn’t any real talk in schools, I would say, right now that I’m involved with about how to measure things like empathy, cultural competence, etcetera.

0:36:25.9 Jessica Haxhi: Except, I do feel hopeful about it because we are doing things like measuring, teachers are working on social-emotional standards with students. So our school district, for example, has social-emotional standards, and the teachers are… Not my teachers, but the homeroom teachers are doing sort of checklist to say like what standards students are working on, and some of those standards sound exactly like what we’re talking about here, like the ability to interact with others who might have different backgrounds. So there is movement in that area. I also think that in terms of World Language Education, the intercultural communication standards from ACTFL went a long way and continue to go a long way in reminding everyone how important that component of language learning is. And I honestly feel… There’s two things I feel are the biggest gifts we give students.

0:37:22.3 Jessica Haxhi: One is that intercultural competence, because once you’ve learned one other language, you understand that there are other languages. I sound so dumb. Right? But when I go to Albania with my husband’s family, I was watching what was going on and then I started doing what they did. I’m passing out the drinks to the older people first, and I greet the older people and someone said, “Wow, you’re such a good Albanian. Where did you learn that?” I’m not Albanian, I’m Scottish. And I said, “Well, I just do like you do.” And I really think that that’s intercultural competence. When I arrive in a new country and I don’t know the language, I just stay calm, I look for clues, and I kind of do what the Romans do, to use the old old phrase. But I think that’s the one gift we give our kids, and I have seen examples. My mom has never learned another language and she is not like that in foreign situations. She gets very stressed out.

0:38:22.0 Jessica Haxhi: The other big gift we give them, I think, is the ability to understand the nature of language and culture, so that’s that comparison standard. When you make regular comparisons, when you’re saying, oh, they do this and I do this, they say it like this, I say this, that really develops a skill in your mind to think they do it different, but that’s not bad. Oh, they must think… And that notion that sort of cultural products, practices, and perspectives too. Understanding that there’s perspectives behind, there’s a why behind the way people do things and the products they use, that’s a way of thinking about culture that we’re actually giving the kids. And that will take them to any culture, into any situation. Oh, this family does this, why do they do… Oh, they do it because of that. Oh, okay. That’s really deep learning, I think, that I’m proud of for the world language field. And I’m so impressed by the people who worked on the original standards and how they delineated all of that.

0:39:25.8 Norah Jones: Jessica before you went or before you tried to go to Nicaragua, one of the things that you spoke about that touched your heart deeply was justice, issues of justice. How does the world language experience now tap into that? Where do you think we are headed with regard to our students and our programs and the aspects of social justice that you’d like to share?

0:39:52.3 Jessica Haxhi: Well, like many areas of education, I think that the past five years have been, of course, good for movement in social justice in terms of people naming it and producing resources for it. And there are just so many people in our field doing amazing work around it, and trying to find ways to make it something that teachers can believe that they can do in the classroom. So we have… There are so many people doing this work, but I also think that we as World Language teachers have to be careful of thinking, oh well, I do world language, I’m diverse, so I’m good. Like that’s enough. Just by being me and teaching Spanish or whatever it might be, I’m bringing diversity. And you are bringing diversity, but you also, we can also… We all can do a lot for anti-racism, we can do a lot in our classrooms to help students have a voice in terms of social justice for all groups, and also in terms…

0:41:09.1 Jessica Haxhi: For example, we can show them how that they can access… And this goes back to the standards as well, but content that’s only available in that language to learn more about social justice around the world, or we can learn… We can help our students see how if they speak this language, then they can reach a broader group with their social justice message. And in addition, just in how we teach, how we build trust, how we treat each student, how we make sure that every student gets called on, how we make sure that we’re not calling on girls more than boys. All that old school stuff too, still is, to me, part of social justice. Every kid in your class should feel like they can do it every day.

0:41:52.4 Jessica Haxhi: And that’s another thing I think you really learn being a teacher in urban districts is things happen. Things happen. Kids have bad days. But to me, since I’ve been teaching urban districts my whole career, I feel like every day is a new day. And you could be mean to me today as a… Even anyone, an adult could be mean to me, or the kid can be off and the next day I’m like, “Hey, come on in.” And I think that’s just how you have to be with everyone nowadays because there’s a lot of stress and pain out there, and I think that even that is your own small contribution to the… Well, I don’t know if it’s social justice but certainly to the social-emotional state of the world and of the people you interact with is to just forgive and forget and move on every day.

0:42:40.5 Norah Jones: That’s quite… It’s a commitment and it’s interesting because linguistically we can commit to it just by the way that we provide for instruction. Jessica, you have a broad audience out here and maybe there’s something that’s on your mind right now that you’d like to reiterate, you’d like to emphasize, exhort people more deeply about, where it might be that there’s something that you didn’t yet say that you just can’t leave this conversation today without saying this to everyone. So what would you like listening audience to hear before we end our conversation today?

0:43:19.1 Jessica Haxhi: Something we didn’t talk about today, but that I’m really excited about right now is The Seal of Biliteracy, actually in the United States. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything that has the potential to impact World Language Education on so many levels, and to do so much good for our students as this program. For those of you who don’t know, it’s an award that students can receive at high school graduation, but we’re also starting to talk to colleges about having levels of Seals of Biliteracy awards at the higher ed level. And then they receive this award for being proficient in English at a certain level, so English and one more language at at least intermediate mid. And every state has different rules about it, but just to give you an example, think about it. This means that now, and going back to measurement, we do, for the first time ever in world languages, have a way to measure proficiency that is affordable for school districts. So for the first time we can compare data between two years and show our administrators that kids are getting better.

0:44:25.5 Jessica Haxhi: We can show kids where they are on the proficiency scale. We can enable kids to go to college and either get placement and in some cases even credit on their transcript for the language skills they already have. The colleges and the career folks will have the ability to know what level our kids are as they’re walking in the door, which you never had before. You might think a student speaks Spanish or it might say Spanish 3 on their transcript, but what does that mean? That means something different at every school. Instead, we’re handing them… Like, “Look, this is a kid who’s amazing at Spanish, take them and make them a teacher or get them into a minor, get them into a major.” I’m just excited about it all the way around for everyone, and perhaps the most, the coolest thing about it is our heritage speakers, they are just… It is so important to look at languages as an asset and not something that we need to help them forget, but something that we need to help them remember and maintain and build.

0:45:29.4 Jessica Haxhi: And so we work really hard in New Haven to have Heritage Speaker classes to help students who maybe only spoke the language, to add reading and writing and things like that. And then when we celebrate The Seal of Biliteracy, most… A lot of our kids up there are kids who learned that language at home and their parents are there and they’re just beaming because they’re finally getting sort of the recognition they deserve for being multilingual, which really is a super power. So if you haven’t… If you’re in the United States and you have not instituted The Seal of Biliteracy in your district yet, please please look to the resources online to help you do that. Feel free to contact me. We’re working on some big things nationally where we’re starting to collaborate together, all the national organizations, to plan for the next 10 years and all the things we can do together to promote The Seal of Biliteracy in our students. So I’m really excited about that right now.

0:46:20.1 Norah Jones: I’m glad you shared that. That’s a jazzy way because truly, and not only honors those that have studied in a traditional way, but also that touching experience of those who have had breathed life into their heritage, that also then can have that acknowledge to the great pride of their family. So it’s a win-win for brand new and for heritage, and the country and the world. So that’s phenomenal. Glad you did that. Glad you brought that up. That is exciting. And Jessica, I really appreciate what you shared today. It’s so important the leadership that you are doing.

0:47:00.0 Norah Jones: It was a phenomenal keynote that you gave at the Northeast Conference earlier in 2023, and those that saw it in person, and then people like me who enjoined upon you to show it to me personally. It was extraordinary to see your vision, and thank you for sharing a part of that vision today. And when people come on to my website and take a look at some of the resources that you’re sharing and pathways that they can go, I know that they will absolutely appreciate your sharing today in both this podcast and there. Jessica Haxhi, thank you very much for sharing with us today.

0:47:40.9 Jessica Haxhi: Thank you, Norah, it was wonderful to be with you and thank you for your leadership in the profession as always.

0:47:47.6 Norah Jones: I hope you enjoyed this podcast with my guest, Jessica Haxhi, and I hope it motivates you to continue to open doors to language and culture in your life and in the lives of others. Please do go to my website, fluency.consulting, to take a look at the transcript of this podcast, to download it, and to look at the resources and information that Jessica has shared with us all. It’s been a pleasure to welcome you once again to this podcast, and until next time.


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

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