America the Bilingual

Episode 12: Eastern Star — The Story of Nick Staffa

Nick Staffa was meant to become a rock star — but the kind who works on a somewhat smaller stage. This kid from Long Island of Italian heritage, would become a rock-star language teacher with a reputation that would spread well beyond the United States. His story has elements of a fairy tale, except that the ending isn’t exactly what we might have expected.

Nick Staffa with (L-R) Professor Zeng and Professor Agnes He, at SUNY Stony Brook

Listen to his story on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes

Or on SoundCloud: here. I’ll let you know about future episodes on Twitter as well.

America the Bilingual is a storytelling podcast for people who think bilingualism is good for themselves, for their families, and for their country.

A resource vital to American interests abroad: language teachers

There may be a temptation to think human teachers will become less important in the future — that online learning and computers will make human teachers obsolete. But teachers will be needed to help students get the most out of technology, including language learning technology. Moreover, the whole point of human languages is to connect more deeply with other humans. Sometimes it’s technologists who understand this best.

I had a chance to speak with Margarita Ribas Groeger, who directs the Spanish language program at MIT. She told me MIT doesn’t have a language requirement, nevertheless, students want language training and enjoy the language classes. They aren’t looking for sophisticated technology when learning languages, she says — they get plenty of that in their regular studies. What they want, rather, is simple technology that emphasizes human-to-human interaction.

Recruiting and retaining world language teachers was a big topic at the annual conference of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) last year. ACTFL (pronounced “act full”) is partnering with Educators Rising in order to encourage young people going into the teaching profession.

Americans who support bilingualism can do much by simply thanking the language teachers we come across, and by actively supporting world language programs in our schools. In order for our great country to progress from its current 25 percent bilingual to 50 percent, we will need thousands and thousands of well-trained and well-supported world language teachers. We need inspired teachers who can reach kids, as Nick Staffa does, and encourage them to pursue their dreams — wherever in the world they go.

Nick Staff leading the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, Grade 1 Assembly


The America the Bilingual podcast is part of the Lead with Languages campaign of ACTFL — The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

This episode was written by me, Steve Leveen, our producer Fernando Hernández, who also does our sound design and mixing, and our associate producer, Beckie Rankin.

Associate producer Beckie Rankin with international language consultant Greg Duncan. Duncan calls Nick Staffa “a remarkable human being and a natural teacher.”

Our brand and editorial director is Mim Harrison. Graphic arts are created by Carlos Plaza Design Studio.

Music in this episode with a Creative Commons Attribution License by:

Kevin Macleod — Quasi Motion

Francisco Penilla — Chicle Bombita

Lee Rosevere — More on That Later, What’s Behind the Door

Komiku — Action Investigation

And from Nick Staffa himself—88 Down — Down

For five minutes of smiling, watch Nick lead the children.