Teaching Notes: June 2009 Archives

Teaching Ideas for an Interactive Language Map

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I found a good resource for language data in the U.S. based on data from the 2000 Census and an update from 2005. It's a good resource, but how can we maximize it's impact on students? By blogging or class discussion of course!

One exercise I really did was to take took the basic U.S. map showing concentrations of non-English speakers (bluer = higher percentage of English speakers) then asked students to guess which language communities were being represented. In some cases (e.g. South Texas) it was clearly Spanish, but for others in Louisiana and northern New England, the answer may not be as obvious to students (Hint for New England: Some grocery stores have trilingual ATMs - English, Spanish and French, for those near the Quebec border).

The most interesting comment to me was one student saying she wished she knew more geography. But maybe this exercise will help her remember some states better in the future.

You can also have students examine data locally and compare with different regions. I find Los Angeles a good case study because I think a lot of people (at least on the East Coast) associate it only with Spanish and maybe East Asian languages, but there are actually many more including relatively affluent Persian and Armenian communities.

Finally, I would recommend asking people look up the third largest spoken languages in different regions. Overall in the U.S., the third largest is Chinese, but in Pennsylvania it's German and Tagalog (Phillipines) in California. Data could be compiled in Google Docs or in a joint blog, and could then form the basis of a discussion about migration patterns or U.S. linguistic history.

I think a lot of instructors are in the practice of handing out links, but it's really great when you can build an exercise around it. It's a habit I'm getting into more though (I hope).

P.S. I should note that today the map is hanging when collecting data, but Internet speeds have been slow in general...hopefully it's a temporary glitch. If the map isn't working, you can retrieve the raw data by clicking Tabular View