Episode 113 Always Say Yes to a Language: Michele Aoki & Veronica Trapani

Always Say Yes to a Language
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 113 Always Say Yes to a Language: Michele Aoki & Veronica Trapani

Bring a language forward. We want that language to be something that we recognize.

Human language is uniquely suited to creating possibilities.

Those possibilities create opportunties for individuals to discover their deepest identities, to express their most important thoughts, to make their most important connections with other people, and to find their place and purpose in the world.

Its About Language Ep 113 _Always Say Yes to a Language

These possibilities create opportunities for societies to develop vibrant cultures, to define and develop opportunities for all citizens, and to connect with other societies across the globe for human well-being world-wide.

What does it take for individuals and societies to tap into these possibilities?


When individuals approach their first and additional languages with confidence, they realize the powerful tool that their innate human skill has provided them. Once they have experienced the power it gives them to be deeply themselves and connect with the world, they know their lives are changed for the better and richer.

Once societies turn to languages with confidence as the key to collaboration, insight, discovery, and cohesion, they realize that the key to flourishing for their people is through empowering individuals and groups to make use of all of their languages. Data show that multilingual children and adults bring skills of flexibility, executive control, collaboration, and creativity to their daily lives and work in ways that monolinguals just cannot access.

Move forward with confidence. Don’t leave human “capital” on the table. Embrace the power of a language — of all languages — in the lives of individuals and societies.

Enjoy the podcast.

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Its About Language Ep 113 _Always Say Yes to a Language

Guests’ bios and resources

Dr. Veronica Trapani-Huebner’s biography

Dr. Veronica Trapani-Huebner is the Associate Director of Content for World Languages and International Education at the state of Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. She taught German and English for a decade in Michigan, Tennessee, New York, and Germany. She is the Membership Chair and Technology Coordinator for the National Council for State Supervisors for Languages and the K-12 Advisor for the National Less Commonly Taught Languages Resource Center (NLRC) at Michigan State University. Veronica’s interests, outside language acquisition and education, include cats, soccer, hiking, skiing, and musical theater. 

Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki’s biography

Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki is an International Education and World Languages Advocate with a special focus on heritage and less commonly taught languages (LCTLs). She retired in 2019 as International Education Administrator for Seattle Public Schools, where she was responsible for developing and supporting the ten international schools in the district and their K-12 Dual Language Immersion programs in Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish, as well as supporting all World Language teachers throughout the district. She was also Co-Director of the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington and led state-wide efforts to expand access to Mandarin language instruction in K-12 schools. From 2008 to 2014, Dr. Aoki served as World Languages and International Education Program Supervisor at the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). While there she received a major grant from the Gates Foundation to support Competency-Based Credit testing to award high school World Language credits to students with demonstrated language proficiency in dozens of LCTLs. This led to introducing the Seal of Biliteracy in Washington state, which has awarded the State Seal to more LCTLs than any other state.

Since 2011, Dr. Aoki has consulted with the University of Washington STARTALK teacher and student programs serving Heritage Language learners of Russian and Portuguese, and teachers of Russian, Portuguese, Persian, Korean, Turkish, and Arabic. Dr. Aoki currently volunteers with the Washington Association for Language Teaching (WAFLT) and serves as Advocacy Chair for the National Council of State Supervisors for Language (NCSSFL) and on the Advisory Board of the Global Seal of Biliteracy. Since 2020, she has coordinated the OSPI grant for Heritage Language learners to earn the Global Competence Certificate and Global Seal of Biliteracy, serving speakers of Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian.

Michele has a B.A. in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Slavic Linguistics, all from the University of Washington. She has received numerous leadership awards, most recently, the 2021 award for Outstanding Contributions to the Teaching of World Languages in the Pacific Northwest from PNCFL, the 2022 J. David Edwards Power of Advocacy Award from JNCL-NCLIS, and the 2023 NCOLCTL Walton Award

Here is where you can find information about and where to purchase the book Honing Our Craft: World Language Teaching Today

To learn more about the nature and importance of dual-immersion language courses and instruction: https://www.dlenm.org/who-we-are/what-is-dual-language-education/

Check out our online course “Teaching Spanish to heritage speakers

Director, Summer Heritage Speakers program in Oaxaca, Mexico Heritage Spanish-speaking college students from around the world are eligible to apply!

Latest blog post: Owning up: When you earn your living from a language that was systematically denied to its owners

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Heritage Language Symposia

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NCSSFL > Facilitated Interdependent Language Learning™ (FILL™)

Sessions @ Global C.R.E.D. Conference 2020

How State agencies and World Language associations can collaborate to support the Seal of Biliteracy: Case Study of Washington Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki and Dr. Veronica Trapani

The Washington State Seal of Biliteracy launched in 2015 thanks to tremendous advocacy efforts by community-based non-profit language and immigrant advocacy organizations. Come learn how the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) partners with the Washington Association for Language Teaching (WAFLT) to provide support to local schools and districts to implement the State Seal and the World Languages Competency-Based Credit Testing that has made it possible for any language to have proficiency tests available to qualify for the Seal.

World Language Credit Testing and the Seal of Biliteracy: 10 Years’ Experience in Seattle Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki and Dr. Thad Williams

In 2010, Seattle became one of the first two districts in Washington state to award world language high school credits to students for any language based on demonstrated proficiency. Over the years, Seattle has tested thousands of students, in particular, bilingual students still learning English who were proud to have their home language recognized for the first time as an asset. Seattle was also one of the first districts to offer the State Seal of Biliteracy to high school graduates and even the Global Seal at the Working Fluency level.

Heritage Language Speakers Can Earn the Global Competence Certificate and Global Seal of Biliteracy Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki with Rosanne Royer and HL Grant Team

How can we motivate students to engage with their heritage language in new and exciting ways? Project-Based Learning leading to the Global Competence Certificate awarded by the World Affairs Council is the approach used in this unique collaboration of Evergreen Public Schools with the World Affairs Council, Ethnic Heritage Council, American Romanian Cultural Society, and Slavic East European Teachers Association of Washington. Students of Romanian, Russian, and Spanish from throughout the state will engage in a year-long, remote-learning program designed to raise the students’ language proficiency and literacy skills and also qualify them for the Global Seal of Biliteracy.

Contact Dr. Michele Anciaux Aoki at michele@anciauxinternational.com or michelea@uw.edu

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.

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0:00:02.2 Norah Jones: The future of our societies depends on the individuals in them. It’s a given. But one of the things that that implies is that there is going to be a balance in what individuals in their language capacities are able to do and what it is that the societies can benefit from these language and cultural knowledges of the individuals. This is a huge question and an important one for our future and for the peace of the world. My guests this week are Michele Aoki. She’s the advocacy chair for the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages and the Former World Languages Program supervisor for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Veronica Trapani is also my guest this week. She’s the associate director for World Languages and International Education for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State.

0:01:01.6 Norah Jones: And this podcast in which these two wonderful guests engage with our future together and the encouragement of individuals and the success of societies is brought in partnership with Avant Assessment. We’ll talk more about Avant and its work and its support for this podcast, for these individuals and for language instruction as a whole as we begin the conversation. One of the real benefits of being in language education and being in the life of language is that you get the coolest people to talk to. And I’ve got two of them here today for your pleasure as well as mine, Michele Aoki and Veronica Trapani, and they are both from Washington State in the United States. Welcome, Michele. Welcome Veronica.

0:01:51.8 Michele Aoki: Thank you.

0:01:52.5 Veronica Trapani: Thank you so much for having us to hear today, Nora.

0:01:55.7 Norah Jones: Well, I’m excited for it. And you know, there’s a loud and proud Washington state start that we’ve got here. And I just think that especially in times where people are looking at potential wonderful new legislation in Washington, DC and in the United States, and in the kinds of decisions that are being made internationally about languages and the supportive languages, including indigenous languages, that it’s really exciting and really challenging to start with. Washington State never says no to language. Okay. So what I got here is I’d like you to tell us a little bit about yourself. What role you are playing such that you can speak authoritatively about that. Yes. That Washington State gives to language. Michele, why don’t you start?

0:02:46.5 Michele Aoki: Well, actually, we say Washington never says no to a language in the sense that languages are identifiable. And that’s really our goal, that we don’t want students just to have the opportunity to learn a specific language that we’re offering, say Spanish, which is a wonderful language, but in a lot of our schools in Washington, it’s the only one that’s ever taught and that students have a chance to learn. So the idea is that if you bring a language forward, maybe it’s a language of your family, your parents, your heritage language in that sense, for example, or your immigrant language, your language that you learned in school from another country before you came to the United States or to Washington State. Or perhaps it’s just a language that you’re curious about and want to learn. We want that language to be something that we recognize.

0:03:36.5 Michele Aoki: And so when we say we don’t say no, the philosophy was related to a project that I led when I was the state supervisor for languages at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, starting in 2008 to make sure that any language could earn world language credits on a high school transcript. So that was sort of our starting place. This was number of years actually before the Seal of Biliteracy movement started in California. And so that philosophy, we tested it out. What would it look like? How do we find assessments or how do we partner with people in the community that know these languages in order to make it possible to recognize what a student can do with the language and make sure they could get credits on their transcript? So that’s kind of where it started.

0:04:27.5 Norah Jones: Thank you so much for making sure that that entry of mine was repaired in the direction that it needs to go, and it brings in so many wonderful conversation parts. Thank you. Veronica.

0:04:38.4 Veronica Trapani: So I am currently the associate director for World Languages, and I’ve taken on international education as well at Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. And so that’s Washington’s Department of Education. And currently, besides while having competency-based credits and the Seal of Biliteracy, I also oversee our biggest initiative which supports all languages which is what we call custom testing. And so this was started through Michele and our professional org, organization for World Language Educators, WAFLT, the Washington Association for Language Teaching back in around 2013. And that was where WAFLT on a volunteer basis was pairing up and finding language raters for languages that did not have assessments available yet. And now, again, this is 10 years ago, so the scope was a lot smaller. And even if there were proficiency assessments, a lot of them were geared more towards professional post-secondary sort of deals, not K-12 students, more specifically maybe 9-12 students.

0:05:56.6 Veronica Trapani: So when that was going on, we were able to pass it to OSPI in 2021. So WAFLT handled it for eight years, but there’s just, there’s a lot of logistics that go along with that. And so we were able now to have a contract with Avant and you know, we kind of, we’ve been working in some partnerships and that’s how Washington is able to offer the seal in 88, 90 plus languages. Ones that are sometimes available through other assessments but that maybe aren’t geared, again, geared towards that K-12 maturity or a little bit harder to work with when it comes to some of the legal things like individualized education plans for our special ed students, different things like that. So we’ve been taking them on for custom testing. But yeah, last year, we had students over, we had 99 students.

0:06:55.4 Veronica Trapani: We are one one below 100. We had 99 students earn a total of 330 credits in languages that don’t have any other assessment. So it’s a real point of pride. And that’s… One last thing I do wanna say is that because of the great support that we’ve had throughout the years, this past year for the next two years, the biennium, our state legislature is actually funding the whole thing. And so, yeah, so I mean, they gave me more money than my wildest dreams was for this. So really, we’re really hoping to use it well. But you know, we’ve taken language equity and financial equity to the forefront of what we do. And so while we’re not paying for all types of assessments, it’s just our custom testing, that’s still at a $250. If districts don’t have to pay for one Nepali, we’re taking that, then they can pay for potentially five to 10 Spanish, so it really, it allows those students and allows those languages better equity while allowing districts to still support other language testing.

0:08:01.0 Norah Jones: The stories that you both have told here have to do with a new vision for people that potentially have only been exposed to, involved in, knowledge of education that has happened from a more formalized point of view. And the enthusiastic funding, I’ll go ahead and use that adjective with it, tells me that your state is seeing something important emerge for its citizens. Michele, you look like you were so ready here. I do have, when I do my recording of this podcast, I do see the faces and I’m watching the reaction there as Michele is ready to, I know, add some important aspects of this. But that question I have is what are they seeing that’s so exciting that funding has been provided in this particular case for what you were referring to Veronica?

0:09:02.0 Michele Aoki: Yeah, I’d love to just tell a little bit about that story because it seems sort of obvious now after so many years that we’ve been working on this, that obviously we would continue. Of course, the main reason is that the response from students and families has been so positive, and so many of them were students who felt that they really couldn’t own their identity as a speaker of another language, because the word at school was, you are deficient in English, so focus on English, your other language doesn’t matter. And with the experience we’ve had over these, really we started in 2010 with the testing and also it’s been 13 years now, we feel confident about that. But I understand that in other states and other settings, they don’t just have that confidence immediately. So I’m going to go back a little bit in the story just to help people understand that one advocate can actually lead to a change, it’s that butterfly flapping its wings kind of thing.

0:10:05.2 Michele Aoki: So back in around 1998, the University of Washington was hosting a planning conference for the soon to be the first planned Heritage Language Conference. And that led eventually led to the National Heritage Language Resource Center down in UCLA. And it happened that my daughter was learning Russian in a heritage program. So I’m not a heritage speaker of Russian, but I have a PhD. And so she was confident that my daughter could get support at home, and she was about fifth grade or so at the time. And so I invited Galina to come to the conference and she was sitting next to Terry Bergeson, who was our new superintendent of public instruction. And Galina asked Terry, why can’t my students earn credits for Russian? I have students that are learning their heritage language. Some of them start as beginners ’cause their parents didn’t speak to them at home.

0:10:56.8 Michele Aoki: Some of them have very advanced skills, but why can’t they earn credits for Russian? Well, of course, if she were to write up a curriculum in English and submit it to every district that her students attended, potentially they could have approved it. But that was a ridiculous process. And so the superintendent said, I’m gonna make that happen. Well, the years passed. And in 2008, I got hired to work at that office of Superintendent of public instruction with that same superintendent. And so I said, well, this is something we really need to address now. And my partner there was someone I had also worked with on a testing project, an assessment project around 2000 with the higher education coordinating board. So the idea was could they use performance assessments data from students actually producing something in math, or language arts or world languages to use for college admissions rather than some kind of standard test?

0:12:01.7 Michele Aoki: Well Kathy Taylor and I had worked on that, and it was not quite successful. And the reason was that there wasn’t really a common understanding of proficiency among the teachers and the amount of work to collect the data and then to evaluate it and so on. It was onerous. There was no way that it could be done in kind of a process that relied on each teacher to take the initiative. But things had changed. And what I had been involved with in the early 2000s was the starting of a number of dual language immersion programs. And so we had started using assessments, and we actually contributed to the development of the first Japanese standards-based measurement of proficiency or STAMP test that Avant Assessment developed. It was even before Aant existed, it was with CASLS, the Center for Applied Second Language Studies.

0:12:53.1 Michele Aoki: So I knew that these proficiency assessments were being developed that were not so expensive, and they would be appropriate for learners. And so we put forward the proposal to use those assessments to establish a proficiency level for students who could then earn credits even if they had not studied the language in a school setting. And so that was the first project we did. And that work was actually that study, that research study in the piloting of these assessments was actually funded by the Gates Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle to the State Board of Education. That led to us creating the model policy and procedure for districts to offer competency-based world language credits. And that was the foundation. And I always encourage states to not just rush into the Seal of Biliteracy without also thinking about making it possible for students who maybe don’t have this, the level required for the state seal to be able to earn credits at least.

0:13:56.4 Michele Aoki: And that’s what we did. And so we got that launched, and then that led to interest in a second grant that I actually was a project manager for at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction from about 2012 to 2014. That was a Gates Foundation grant to work specifically on outreach and developing the communications tools for families and the processes for districts to offer the testing. And we did that for seven very diverse districts in the south King County area, so Seattle, south Seattle, and then a number of other districts that were there. The great thing was that when you get a half million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation, your state office, your legislators, people notice. That must be, they must think it’s important if they’re funding this. But what really was convincing was our success. Out of that effort probably 2% of all the students, hundreds of students who tested over the couple three years of the grant did not earn even one credit.

0:15:02.2 Michele Aoki: Usually it was because they didn’t have any writing experience in their language. Otherwise all of them were earning at least 1, 2, 3, or four credits, and about 50% of them, close to 50% were earning the four credits, which is what later got established as the level for Seal of Biliteracy. And we were covering a wide variety of languages. So I have to just say that it was a big infusion of money, a project accountability and reports, and we worked with ED Northwest to do a research report that involved meeting with the families, getting videos and things like that, where we actually heard the stories from students, for example, who would talk about when I found out there was this test, I didn’t want to tell my parents. So I just took the test and when I came back and I earned all these credits, they were so proud, they were crying, things like that.

0:15:58.9 Michele Aoki: And so that was the foundation that then led us to work on bringing in the seal of Biliteracy because we saw, as the Seal was being introduced in California, for example, New York, other places, they were tending to rely on things that were always available in the school, like seat time credits. If you had four credits, you can get the state seal in California, for example, although that’s being changed there, I believe now. Or if you can pass an AP exam, for example, IB, but Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate are not widely available. And so we knew that because of our philosophy, don’t never say no to a language, that we could guarantee that the state seal of Biliteracy in Washington could be introduced in the most equitable way possible. And I do use possible. It’s not perfect and it’s never been perfect, but we have decided to make very good the the benchmark as opposed to perfect.

0:17:00.7 Norah Jones: Very good instead of perfect. And what a encouraging story, and thank you for that foundational story and the various pathways that it reflects. Veronica, when you are working with this system and we’re in it and grow with it and be in it and now are taking it forward, what are the things that you hear in that history? And where is it that you are working now? What kind of insights are you providing about the ongoing commitment?

0:17:34.6 Veronica Trapani: Yeah, so when we talk about never saying no to a language, these are all languages, right? And a lot of times working with our tribes. So we have 29 federally recognized tribes here in Washington, and they have languages. And we wanted to make sure that tribal students are also able to earn the seal of biliteracy. And so a lot of work has been done partnering with our Office of Native Education. We’re really, really lucky to have an amazing ONE. And they have…now we have a tribal language liaison. So it truly making sure that it is representative of all. And so even some of my work deals with how do districts work with tribes. I always, always pull in the office of Native Ed. My other motto is nothing about us without us.

0:18:32.3 Veronica Trapani: So again, I know that that is a community that I respect, but that I am not a part of. And so I can’t just be working on behalf of them. I say, here are my resources. You use what you need. And if they choose to take it, that’s great. And if not, then that’s also part of tribal sovereignty and things like that. So really working to remove barriers on the backend that would prevent things like tribal languages and things like that. Because as we have gone forward with the Seal, at first, it was just AP and, or not just… Here, it was never just AP. But I’m saying that that’s what school districts were seeing, right? The easiest way possible for students to earn this, what they already had.

0:19:16.0 Veronica Trapani: So now when we think of equity, it’s going beyond that and really trying to integrate all. And I also bring up working and making sure that American Sign Language has a place at the table as well. That has been a lot of work just because of, again, another community of which I can never be a part that the deaf and hard of hearing community. And so we have native users of ASL, but we also have children of deaf adults, right? CODA. And we also have second language learners of ASL. And how do you represent all of them while making sure that not one single one is getting a higher preference or, which tends to happen when we look at our second language learners. So that was also some big part. Some of what I’ve done now in coming in is just making sure districts know that yes, this is available for those students. Honoring as language sovereignty and honoring and validating that, while also understanding that a lot of people on the outside just see language in a human capital sort of way. So how it’s a balancing edge, right? Really making sure that you’re validating and supporting the communities while also saying, Hey, this is a skill, this could be potentially monetized. You know, how do you balance both of those?

0:20:46.4 Norah Jones: You know, I really appreciate there were so many words that you just worked with there, Veronica, that were in my mind. And when you just did that balancing part, because I had a feeling, almost a visual of you standing in the middle and thinking about and taking time, breathing, taking some space to notice who is around us, who is trying to be engaged, where are they being left out? Where are their identities? So there’s a lot of this humane aspect, the humanity of the individual or the small groups, or even fairly large groups of speakers of particular languages. You’ve also then tapped on the practical application of language, which is where sometimes folks that, I won’t say they don’t buy into the humanity of it, but they think of it as, where’s this going to go? How can it help our whole society? Would you Veronica, spend just a little bit more time then talking about how you and how those you work with approach this balance of, this means everything to an individual, but it also means everything to everybody else?

0:22:11.7 Veronica Trapani: Yeah, that’s a really great segue. So Washington has three graduation pathways. This was, I think started in 2019 and they’ve since really defined it. So students can take kind of three different pathways. You can have your more traditional college or university prep. You also have a career in technical education pathway, and then there is kind of the military focus. And so each one of those pathways has different assessments that are needed to pass for you to graduate. So the traditional, and I hate saying traditional, even, it’s just the college prep pathway, I guess. That’s your needing English through ELA and math scores through SAT, ACT, Smarter Balanced. For your career technical ed, You have to earn two credits in a single program. And generally a lot of those lead to some IRCs, Industry Recognized Credentials.

0:23:10.2 Veronica Trapani: And then for the military pathway, students take the ASVAB, right? The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. And now we know traditionally who are the students that are pushed to take language. It’s not usually our CTE and our military-focused students for whatever reason. So part of that, of looking at language as both validation, but also skill, is really integrating language into all three pathways. So this is something that it’s initiative that I’ve been working with the American Translators Association and is getting programs like CTE programs for translation and interpretation into skill centers and CTE programs in our districts. One of the most amazing parts of living in Washington and having our amazing superintendent is Chris Reykdal. He is so supportive of language. He has this huge push. He wants every student to have access to dual language education by… it’s either 2030 or 2040.

0:24:27.1 Veronica Trapani: And we’ve changed some things a little bit, but the goal is truly to do that. But a lot of those programs do start at the K level, right? Kindergarten, and move up through fifth grade. And then we you wanna build up as you go. And I see a lot of my work is what do we do when those kids get to high school? So some of them are going to want to continue and learn more about that language. Some of them are going to earn their competency-based credits and probably never want to set foot in a language classroom again, I hope that’s not true. But again, we have to recognize that there’s all types of interests. Anyways. And then there are some who are going to want to see it as a language with specific purpose, right? They have a need to use that skill in a way that both honors their community but they can earn that money from it.

0:25:20.1 Veronica Trapani: And I think that is kind of where we’ve seen some drop off at sometimes the university level where it’s like, we study language because we love language. You know, I was a German major and I loved it and I loved German, but when I asked my, I taught middle school German for 10 years, and when I asked my students, they were taking German because they wanted to be stationed there in the military, they wanted to, their parents worked for some of the big three car companies. They wanted to go into auto engineering. They had a purpose for the language outside of just studying the language. So that’s why to honor both of those, it’s, yes, you can study and read literature in Spanish or you know, in Chinese or, or whatever you’re looking at, but you can also see that there is a way to use that in your future career. And truly, I think that’s another reason why we were able to get so much support is that it both honors students, but it also is really good for the state of Washington to have these students that have the ability to work and earn money with their languages as well. So like when I talked about that balance, it’s providing opportunity to me that that’s the biggest part. Yeah.

0:26:38.4 Norah Jones: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much Veronica. Michele, what are some of the thoughts as you are listening to Veronica’s discussion here?

0:26:46.7 Michele Aoki: Yeah, that’s why it’s so fun to be able to play off of each other because Veronica’s absolutely right. We are so fortunate that we’ve had a visionary superintendent for the last number of years who has set these very big goals. And then he has empowered the people in his agency to collaborate and work together in ways that just that weren’t happening before. It used to be, for example, when I was at the state agency that, okay, I’m over here, but I’m world languages and we’re over here and we’re bilingual education. Bilingual education meant how do you get people to forget their language and learn English? Basically the focus was only on getting to the English. And if you could show that maybe your English would be better if you also had access to your language for a period of time, okay, then we’ll do something.

0:27:37.3 Michele Aoki: But we’ll get rid of that crutch in a sense. We don’t think of that anymore. And that department is now multilingual learners. And, and the opportunity to see that, and I do see this in superintendent Reykdal’s statements, whenever he speaks about it, his vision is not just, oh, this is a solution for all of our immigrant kids or kids that have other languages at home. It’s a solution for our state. Every learner should have a chance to learn another Lang… Two, at least two languages. Obviously it’s beneficial to know English in this country, but whatever other language it is, the one that that came from your youth, your childhood, your family, or maybe something else that’s just of interest to you for whatever reason. So that has created a kind of synergy and the power of the competency-based credits and the seal of Biliteracy is that it’s been kind of like that carrot that kept students going forward, realizing that we don’t want you just to have, say, a dual language experience in elementary and then you’re done.

0:28:40.6 Michele Aoki: No. It’s like the meaningful language that you will now learn that was useful for the rest of your life beyond your household, your home is the language that you learn from academic, things that you’re exposed to at the middle and high school level. And in particular, they expanded the notion to really focus on heritage language learners in a way that I think very few states have done so far. Because these all fit together, all these pieces together. So for example, for the past three years, I have helped coordinate a grant from our state office for a heritage language program that has as its goal students, high school students to earn the state seal of Biliteracy and the global seal of Biliteracy, which I’ll explain in a minute why I feel that’s beneficial.

0:29:28.3 Michele Aoki: And also do it through development of a portfolio that shows the growing development of a student’s global competence. So their ability to engage with world issues, things like the sustainable development goals to reflect on their international experience, travel, people, cultural things within their own communities and their language, their experiences as language learners and language acquirers too. And so we’ve now run that program for three years for Russian, Romanian, and Spanish. And then we were adding Ukrainian as well the last year or two. So the fact that such a opportunity would be available says so much about the forward looking view. At our state office.


0:30:19.6 Norah Jones: It is a pleasure to be able to partner with Avant Assessment to produce this podcast. In 2001, David and Sheila Bong joined Dr. Carl Falsgraf to pursue a vision of a standards-based measurement of proficiency assessment in order to be able to open the door to students speaking as well as learning all types of languages in order to pursue their individual dream and society’s need for those that are proficient in language and cultural understanding. Thank you Avant Assessment for being my partner for this podcast, and thank you for producing those assessments and those programs that can help to support students and teachers as they grow in their learning, acquisition, and use of languages.

0:31:14.0 Norah Jones: I’m going to ask both of you… It’s more of an emotional content here. You have alluded to that some, and Michele, when you just mentioned about, I’m not sure that other states are taking a look at… this emotional goes back to the word that you used about your leadership, your legislatures in particular, having confidence. There’s a lack of fear at the leadership level that seems to be driving this, that languages are not a threat, that two or more languages can be held in the human brain at the same time effectively. Some of these again, are aspects of data and knowledge, but that data knowledge is well widely distributed and it doesn’t necessarily always make it to legislation. There seems to be a confidence here, I’ll go in the positive direction, that it’s okay, that humans will flourish and society will flourish with this. Am I overstating this emotional content at all?

0:32:27.0 Michele Aoki: Not at the level of our state office, and to a great extent, not at the level of our legislature. You know, even when we passed the original state Seal of Biliteracy legislation in 2014, it was right before I left the state office to go work in Seattle Public Schools as the district supervisor. The bill passed with unanimous approval in the Senate and it was actually led by a person on the more conservative side. So that’s been one of the beautiful things about the Seal of Biliteracy is that it has been something that brought unification at a time in our country when so many things are bringing division. And part of it is the recognition that it’s not just about honoring a language other than English, it’s about also honoring English. And so it brings those two pieces together. And many people in our policy makers, both at the state and the federal level have had experience going abroad and so on.

0:33:28.6 Michele Aoki: And many of them have seen local efforts. They’ve seen young children learning English in another country, and they get the idea, I want our kids to be like that, that they can just speak Chinese if they want to, or Spanish or Russian or Ukrainian or whatever language it would be, including things like Chuuk and Quechua and and so on. So I feel like we’ve really come a long way in building that, like you say, confidence. So step by step. But the first thing is that you have to be, as leaders in this field, you have to take a broad view of yourself. And I just decided, for example, when I stepped into the role, I have to, well, I’m just going to say a personal note, which is that I had breast cancer in 2007 and I came out of that and I had been working at that time on advocating for the state position for that Veronica now fills to exist.

0:34:23.1 Michele Aoki: And it it got passed, but it didn’t get funded, so it didn’t happen. So in 2008, it got reintroduced and when it got funded and suddenly it was there, I decided I would go ahead and apply, not because I thought I was that qualified for it, I don’t even have a teaching certificate for K-12. I’ve worked more in the higher ed arena, but supported dual language immersion programs to be developed. So I kind of brought that aspect, but I decided to apply. They didn’t actually hire me first, but then they turned around a couple days later and said, well, actually, we would like you to come in. And one of the things, I think anybody who has experienced something like, like cancer, you realize I have nothing to lose. I am going to go full bore to the goals that this could have. And so I just threw myself into it, but other people did as well. And we had tremendous support from our world language association at the national level and everywhere. And so that’s what I would just encourage people to do is, don’t get cancer, but imagine that you did and you had a limited time to have an impact in the world. Well, you better make that impact now. There’s no time like the present.

0:35:29.4 Norah Jones: Thank you Michele, and thank you so much for sharing that and that impetus that we all do well to keep in mind even if we avoid the specific diagnoses. But thank you again for sharing that personal note. That was very powerful. Veronica?

0:35:46.8 Veronica Trapani: So I also think about the fact that Washington is a state that we kind of are divided almost literally down the middle with some mountain ranges. And so we have western Washington and eastern Washington, and the confidence also comes from, I live in a more rural area, and so sometimes I do hear the issues that are, that plague our small districts, right? When you have 78 students total in the whole district, how do you support them this way? Something that’s a little bit different than you might hear coming out of Seattle. And so really I have learned how to talk to them too. Part of it is looking at, okay, think about if you want to go learn Spanish and you want to do welding, man, a bilingual welder is going to have twice the amount of clients to work with, right?

0:36:44.0 Veronica Trapani: Because there are already people who are speaking the language of the population that they need to work with, and they’re the ones getting their business, you know? And so when you, when you frame it in a way that says, oh, I can do this, you can support also those regions where…. we talk a lot about custom testing supports the students that already speak a language other than English, but how do we support those who are native English speakers and don’t have many other opportunities? You really they might not have left their county, you know? Everyone they know at the school district is related to them in some way, or their friends that their, god parents and parents, old, old high school friends. So this is a way for them to also start putting that, as Michelle said, so nicely, a carrot on a stick.

0:37:32.8 Veronica Trapani: It’s not as scary when you can see the benefits of it. So I think that’s also been part of the confidence is working with policymakers who represent smaller communities like that where they might not have a lot of multilingual students already, but when you can show them, hey when you’re talking about marine science and you’re working with the Port of Seattle, you know that Nantes France also has students learning about marine science. And you can open up a more global perspective to people that never saw that before. It makes the world bigger and that’s why I always advocate, even when people tell me, oh, I took two years of high school Spanish and I don’t remember it. I’m like, it broadened your perspective bigger than where you are from and made you made you look at the world outside. You know, not everybody has to take a world history class. And even then, that’s world history, not world current…

0:38:33.0 Veronica Trapani: So I think it’s really powerful when we can support those students as well to make it so it is a state-wide initiative.

0:38:47.4 Norah Jones: That bringing in… Thank you so much, Veronica, the story in general, but that sense of when you have smaller in rural areas, which is where I tend to live, and my heart goes out to those items of both identity and also utility that are found in rural areas as well, and it’s a very interesting puzzle. Now Veronica, Michele mentioned a really quick story a little while ago about a person, a young person who went ahead and surreptitiously, took a test and came home and the parents cried because the child had passed the test. What story can you tell about the effect of what is happening in Washington State on a young person that you know of, or in your life, however you would like to take it.

0:39:43.5 Veronica Trapani: So I obviously do come from the world language world, like I said, I was a middle school and high school German teacher for 10 years, and one of my points of pride is how many students I’ve had that have continued to study German at university, in the college level for all different reasons. And even one I had, she grew up in the Mormon faith and she did her mission in Germany, and so it’s saying it doesn’t matter why you’re learning or what you’re learning, it’s that you apply it. And there is one thing I really want to talk about and why I love our custom testing, we have a district that reached out to us that had a student who deals with selective mutism, which is when you have anxiety so bad that you can’t speak. And so for some of the testing, you need to physically be on the phone to speak with someone, and we were able to work with them so that the student was able to record, and so where previously… In their language other than English, they would not have been able to even earn the credit because they couldn’t do the speaking part, and that is part of the requirements, if a language has a spoken aspect, we need to assess in that, if it has a written aspect, you need to assess in it, but being able to work with our district, our assessment partner, and then OSPI, and we were able to pay for it.

0:41:14.2 Veronica Trapani: It was one of those things that it was like, everybody worked together, so that this student who in any other circumstances would not have been able to earn that credit, was not only able to earn credit, but able to earn the Seal of Biliteracy. And so that to me is like when Michele talked about collaboration, it’s within our agency, but it’s also with our non-profits or NGOS, Non-Governnmental Organizations and our professional organizations, all of us working together to support all students.

0:41:48.7 Michele Aoki: I just wanted to make sure that… we didn’t mention that we’ve been talking a lot about Washington State, because that happens to be where we were working, but actually when I started the work on the competency-based credits, I was the chair of the ACTFL, LCTFL Less Commonly Taught Languages Special Interest Group, SIG. So I felt an obligation to be sharing what we were doing and figured in really figuring out, but not only that, it was through the SIG that I met people that helped a lot with finding readers for some of the languages that we needed. And I’m also… Both of us are members of the National Council of State Supervisors of Language. So that NCSSFL organization has really been instrumental in being a conduit for people to share across the cross-state lines, what each state is doing. Each state is doing something that’s innovative or different, or it could be beneficial. And I do view this as part of why I’m so excited about the new WorldLEAP legislation that has been introduced in the Congress, we’ll be talking about it soon at The JNCL language Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. And why it’s so important for the Federal level to take on that same idea, is that never say no to a language, a language represents a person, a culture, something.

0:43:16.3 Michele Aoki: And lately, we’ve been talking a lot about a artificial intelligent AI chat bots, things like that, you know, it’s so interesting, the more that I’ve been experimenting in that arena, the more I’ve understood why we have to treat the wealth, the human wealth that we have that is unique to us as human beings, which is our language and our culture and our ability to communicate it with each other, and I think we don’t want to give up on that. I’ve heard some people say, Oh, we will never need to learn another language, these that bots will translate everything. It doesn’t work that way, on the contrary, it will open more doors, I believe, and make it more possible for more people to learn more languages, but I don’t think in any way limits the need for formal learning opportunities, teaching opportunities in our schools, and certainly pathways to recognize people that have had the initiative to learn languages on their own.

0:44:10.6 Norah Jones: Beautifully said, and one of the things that I would have prompted earlier on in this conversation, except it’s been packed into everything you’ve said, both of you, has been the nature of the fact that language lives in culture, and so there’s a joy of the linguistic, but also the cultural element, and I invite those that are listening to this podcast to look again, listen again to what is being implied here about the joy in and dignity of the cultures that are coming forth and being represented in these languages. And I will be encouraging listeners to go on to my website, fluency.consulting to take a look at the resources that you’ve shared and that background that you’ve shared, so that they can experience and get a good connection with you and with those resources you had. So that’s kind of like my exhortation, but I always, in my podcast, turn that last moment where we have to, doggone it, go one and wrap up instead of talk the rest of the day and invite you to do your final exhortation.

0:45:27.1 Norah Jones: Your final invitation. Your final reminder, your “Good grief. We didn’t talk about this, I need to at least mention it before we go.” so Veronica What is it that you want to make sure that you don’t leave this podcast conversation without sharing with the listeners please.

0:45:47.6 Veronica Trapani: Learning a language takes a village, and understanding proficiency and where we’re going now is greater than just world language educators, it’s the people in front offices of schools, it’s being able to share, and it’s really truly changing the view of languages other than English as a whole. I do want to say that sometimes when we talk about custom testing, we do get some families that say, I don’t understand why you would even want to assess in our language, it’s not anything. And so that’s really where you’re seeing that from some of our tribes when language was taken away in residential schools, that was a way to protect themselves by not speaking the language, so it’s going to be a heavy lift, changing the way an entire culture sees languages, speaking of culture, but I think that’s got to be the overall over-arching goal, is to get everybody on board with this, because that’s the way that we make the big change, and that’s truly a lot of what Michele set as great foundations for me to come in and work with.

0:46:55.7 Norah Jones: Thank you, Veronica. Michele?

0:46:57.1 Michele Aoki: Yes, we’ve been talking a lot about assessments and tests and Seal of Biliteracy it sounds like all we care about is like, what can you show that you know already, as opposed to the process of learning and acquiring a language, and I just want to make sure that I’m clear that that is absolutely as important. However, it’s a lot easier to generate the enthusiasm and interest from the students about doing the hard work of learning a language and owning the language, that acquisition part. We don’t want you just to learn about the language, we want you to have it as something that’s a skill that you can own and use in whatever setting, and you want to have it. When you can see that kind of the pathways, where am I headed,

0:47:44.2 Michele Aoki: And we can recognize the steps along the way, and so I think that’s why it’s been so important to have build the framework out for the kind of the recognition, and of course, with using the Global Seal of Biliteracy in our state, we’ve been able to actually recognize students at the advanced level now, because the Global Seal has several levels, our state seal is heading in that direction, but not there yet, but our state seal, of course, is limited to high school students in public schools, and we want universal access for any learners and that’s where we feel like we’ve got a great combination with something that is recognized on the transcript, with the state seal, and something that’s recognized internationally with a Global Seal of Biliteracy. But the learning of the language and the role of teachers, facilitators, people who help connect learners to the resources that will help them achieve their goals,

0:48:39.8 Michele Aoki: That is also very, very important. But it’s hard for them to get the results that they want in the long-term commitment of the students, unless the students see something external that says, my language matters, my proficiency matters, somebody sees me. And what that is all about.

0:48:57.9 Norah Jones: Thank you so much. You know, the reason why I have this podcast is to connect language, human language, to hope, and I’d like to make sure that I say here in front of both of you that what you have shared from your experiences primarily, in Washington State, although others as well, thank you very much for that background, is to also commend those who are listening in the United States and beyond the United States who have had certain experiences and to encourage the listeners that have had those experiences, have supported this kind of identity, this understanding of the effort and the joy. Thank you for what you are doing, dear listeners who have done this, but tell your story as Veronica and Michele have here today, and keep telling it, because we really need it, we need to be able to change how people can contribute to the world and feel about their role in the world.

0:50:03.2 Norah Jones: Michele and Veronica, you guys have been wonderful, articulate guests today. Thank you for bringing that hope directly out to everyone and for what you are doing, and best wishes as you continue your work. I can’t help it, I have to do this. What’s the next cool thing, Veronica?

0:50:22.6 Veronica Trapani: Well, let’s just say we’re meeting with some dual credit people for university levels, we’re looking at train the trainer, language proficiency, statewide things, so truly, we’re going to… I think there’s a lot of hope on the future.

0:50:41.0 Norah Jones: Excellent, excellent. And Michelle, one last cool thing.

0:50:46.8 Michele Aoki: Yeah, well, a group of us in NCSSFL have been working on Facilitated Interdependent Language Learning, we call it FILL, and I’ll be presenting me on it with Pam Welch act for conference in November. The concept here is that in a classroom, a teacher may have students learning eight or 10, 12 different languages, the students pick the language that they want to learn, and the role of the teacher is really to facilitate connecting them to the language resources they need to achieve their goals, but also to the expertise that a language-trained language teacher has about how language acquisition works, and what are the elements of language and how to assist them to get down that road in that journey, and of course, that also could tie into maybe a student earning a seal of biliteracy some day. So that’s the one we’re working on right now.

0:51:37.0 Norah Jones: And again, that collaborative moment, come to that website and see some other collaborative links that have been provided, and again, Veronica, Michele, thank you so much for being my guest today.

0:51:49.0 Michele Aoki: Our pleasure.

0:51:55.1 Veronica Trapani: Thank you, Norah.

0:51:55.7 Norah Jones: I hope you enjoyed this podcast with my guests, Michele Aoki and Veronica Trapani as much as I enjoyed hosting it. Thanks again to Avant Assessment for being my partner in this podcast, and please go to my website, fluency.consulting, you’ll see the bios there of my guests, you’ll see their resources, and may you be encouraged, empowered and ever more happy to bring language and culture to individuals and to society, to bring about hope and peace in this world. Until next time.

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