MIWLA History

Michigan Foreign Language Association – Michigan World Language Association

1964 to Present

In 2014, the Michigan World Language Association (MIWLA), formerly the Michigan Foreign Language Association (MFLA), celebrated its 50th anniversary during the annual conference in Lansing, Michigan. Here is a brief history of an organization that began when a group of language teachers from many universities in the state got together to exchange ideas. The original founding group eventually evolved into Michigan’s largest and most comprehensive opportunity for professional development, advocacy, and networking in language education.


The inspiration for the formation of the organization began in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first unmanned satellite, Sputnik, into outer space. The United States government realized that not only did our accomplishments lag behind the Soviets in science, but in the study of foreign languages as well.

The founding member of the MFLA was Barbara Ort (later Barbara Ort-Smith). She taught French and English at Laingsburg High School, not far from Lansing. Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, and money became available to allow universities to grant fellowships and scholarships to pursue advanced studies. Money from this act also allowed the state to fund a position of State Foreign Language Consultant. Barbara Ort applied for this position and became the first Foreign Language Consultant for the State of Michigan. As part of her new job and to improve the language skills of teachers, she wanted to provide a network where teachers could meet and share ideas.

Barbara Ort recruited Donald Riddering, Detroit Cooley High School, Latin; Sister Norbert (Marjorie) Vangness, Aquinas College, French; Georges Joyaux, Michigan State University, French; William Hughes, Michigan State University, German; Jack Moeller, Oakland University, German; James McClafferty, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Social Studies; and Jean Carduner, University of Michigan, French as other founding members. The first meetings of the organization were held at Barbara Ort’s home. Out of those preliminary meetings came the momentum of holding an annual conference, which took place at the Michigan State University Union in East Lansing until 1988. Between 800 and 900 teachers attended the conference every year, and the Union facilities became too small; the conference was then moved to the Clarion Hotel in Lansing, which eventually became the Holiday Inn/Causeway Bay Hotel. Being a Board Member in the early days of the association was an eight-year commitment, and the President was in charge of two annual conferences. This was later reduced to a five-year commitment and is now a commitment of four years.


In the early 1980s, a wine and cheese reception followed the Thursday evening banquet, and many members participated in the sing-a-longs where they sang in the target languages. Over 300 people attended the Friday luncheons. The first “It Works” session, where a group of teachers shared tips that were effective in their classrooms, was held in 1981. George Mansour was the moderator and the first presenters included Tom Howell, Ruth Moltz, Nancy Nash-Reddy, and Emily Serafa Manschot.

In 1988, the MFLA established the Barbara Ort-Smith Award to honor those who have shown a strong commitment to the profession, manifesting itself in leadership and the promotion of excellence in world language education. The first recipient of this award was its namesake Barbara Ort-Smith. The names of the other recipients of this award are found at miwla.org.


In the 1990s, the philosophy of the organization became “MFLA on the Move in the 90s”. The purpose was to provide access to the conference for teachers in all areas of the state. The conference moved to Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Dearborn, Lansing, Midland, Troy, and back to Lansing, where the conference has remained since 1998. Conference attendance peaked in 2001 at almost 1,100 attendees.

In 1997, the MFLA introduced grants for student teachers and new teachers. The purpose of these grants was to help student teachers and new teachers with fewer than five years of experience with their conference expenses. The grants paid for the teachers’ membership, conference registration, the Awards Luncheon, and one workshop. In the 2000s, the grants were expanded to allow more experienced teachers to apply for the grants. These grants are still available to language teachers to this day. The hottest topics in the latter part of the 1990s were implementing the ACTFL Standards (The 5 Cs), technology, and block scheduling, which presented ideas on how to construct lesson plans to engage students for longer periods of time and to take the instruction to deeper levels.


The 21st century brought even more changes and innovation to the conference. The first reception in 2000, “The Millennial Reception,” was sponsored in part by several exhibitors and the hotel and emceed by George Mansour. Door prizes were airline tickets to the country where the winner’s target language was spoken, registration to national, regional, and local language conferences, and many other prizes donated by exhibitors and members. Joyous Noise provided music. There was a FLES Swapshop Breakfast with entertainment provided by Grupo Cañaveral.

This was also a time when MICH-I-LIFTS, a collaborative effort of the MFLA and the Michigan Department of Education, was underway. This was directed by JoAnne Wilson as Project Coordinator and Emily Spinelli, Anne Nerenz, Jackie Moase-Burke, Thomas Lovik, and Cindy Kendall as presenters. The goal was to improve foreign language education in Michigan schools. This began at the MFLA Conference in 1999, and participants also attended workshops in the summer of 2000 and an all-day workshop the day before the conference in 2000. The result of the project was a large booklet of classroom activities produced by the teachers of the project. The goals of this booklet were to enhance proficiency, technology, and standards-based instruction.

New Visions, begun in 1999, was a project sponsored jointly by ACTFL and The National K-12 Foreign Language Resource Center (NFLRC) to create a national agenda for foreign language education. This initiative produced discussion papers on five topics: Architecture of the Profession; Curriculum, Instruction, Articulation, and Assessment; Research; Teacher Development; and Teacher Recruitment. A New Visions Conference was held in Washington, D.C. in June 2000. Emily Spinelli, Cindy Kendall, Susan Knight, and Jennie Frazier presented on New Visions during a session at the 2000 conference to get MFLA member input.

In 2002 and the following conferences, the banquet was eliminated and replaced with a reception and concerts by artists such as Justo Lamas, the Wise Guys, Alfonso Maya, and The Choral Connection. Hors d’oeuvres were provided courtesy of the hotel and MFLA. During the latter part of the 2000s and into the 2010s, other entertainment options were offered to conference participants, such as Teachers’ Night Out at a local mall and restaurants, Movie Night, and a Pub Crawl.

In 2004, at the annual Business Meeting, Cindy Kendall moved to change the name of the organization to the Michigan World Language Association (MIWLA). Thomas Lovik seconded; the motion passed.


Language issues in the 21st century included incorporating studies of Asian languages and Arabic and welcoming those teachers to MIWLA. A Confucius Institute Panel discussed the teaching of Chinese. Wafa Hassan presented a session titled “Enhancing Arabic Language Instruction through Culture.” Members also wanted more sessions and workshops presented in the target languages. MIWLA began a series of target language luncheons where members could converse in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. MIWLA members and graduate students from Michigan State University helped facilitate these luncheon conversations and made this event a success. TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) was very popular as a means of emphasizing the speaking skill, and differentiated instruction was also an important topic. In the 2010s, members debated flipped classroom approaches, online learning, the blended classroom, and language as a complex and abstract system instead of a set of rules. In 2012, the annual conference found a new home at the Lansing Radisson Hotel and the Lansing Center, and MIWLA began offering Spring Workshops to give members opportunities for professional development outside of the conference. Later, the Keynote General Session became the venue of the Awards Ceremony, honoring the recipients of the Barbara Ort-Smith Award; The Georges Joyaux Award for outstanding teaching at the university level; the newly created Distinguished Service Award; Pre-service Teacher, New Teacher and Experienced Teacher Grants; and the Teachers of the Year at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.

Over the years, the MFLA/MIWLA has worked with other organizations to represent Michigan world language teachers. Michigan hosted the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in 1976 (Detroit), 1992, 2004, and 2008 (Dearborn), Many MIWLA members worked on committees to bring the best of Michigan to those attending from other states. MIWLA officers regularly attend the Delegate Assemblies at both the Central States Conference and the ACTFL Conference. Since 1995, Michigan has sent representatives to the Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) Conference in Washington, D.C. There, MIWLA officers have met with congressmen and senators to discuss important language issues and legislation. MIWLA officers also worked with the Michigan Department of Education and then State Superintendent Michael Flanagan and testified at State Board of Education Meetings. This was especially important during the debate of high school world language graduation requirements, which went into effect with the graduating class of 2016. To better inform high school and school district administrators about the graduation requirement, MIWLA sponsored several Administrators’ Breakfasts during the annual conference, where the requirements were presented and explained by Jackie Moase-Burke. MIWLA’s past presidents were urged to keep in touch with and contribute to the organization through the Past Presidents Circle. Social media continued to play a growing role in the conference.

The question now is, what does the future hold for MIWLA? The organization is always looking for ways to better serve its members and increase membership. MIWLA is also trying to strengthen its ties with other organizations such as the Central States Conference, JNCL-NCLIS, and ACTFL. Most importantly, MIWLA is committed to providing the best service possible for its many members for years to come.


Submitted by Emily Serafa Manschot

The following MFLA/MIWLA members also contributed to this history:

Daryl Biallas
Laura Nork Bradshaw
Susan Formento Buffa
Margaret Cottrill
J. Sanford Dugan
Julie Foss
Jennie Frazier
Angelika Kraemer
Marge Mandl
George Mansour
Ruth Moltz
Anne Nerenz
Margrit Zinggeler