By Piper Moore (Co-Editor of Layout and Design ‘23)
Please welcome Gillian Diffenderfer, the new Spanish and French teacher here at Friends’ Central!
Her interest in languages, specifically Romance languages, began in middle school when she took Spanish, however this passion would soon encompass multiple other languages as she progressed in her education. In high school she learned French and a little bit of German. Then, while attending Bryn Mawr College, she studied Romance languages and added Italian to her repertoire. Ms. Diffenderfer also got the opportunity to be a teaching assistant (TA) at college in level I and level II language classes. She quickly fell in love with the idea of combining her passion for languages with teaching as it allowed her to be able to teach or discuss any topic, like the culture from which the language originated, as long as the content was communicated in the language she was teaching. Following college, she moved to Chile for a year where she taught English to adults and then moved back to Philadelphia to start working in schools again. Before working at Friend’s Central, she worked as a Spanish teacher at Penn Charter; however, when a Spanish and French teacher position opened up at FCS, she jumped at the opportunity to still be able to work at a Quaker school and teach both languages.
While not a Quaker herself, Ms. Diffenderfer loves working at Quaker schools, because she believes the philosophy of Quakerism holds important values that kids of any age should be taught. For example, Quakerism’s emphasis on integrity instills in kids a desire to do the right thing even when no one is watching, which is quite rare in this world. These ideals are incredibly important to her as a language teacher, as they help foster a more united community, which, in turn, helps students learn better, since language learning is a collaborative effort.
Within her own curriculum, Ms. Diffenderfer tries to keep in line with current language learning trends, like focusing less on grammar and more on cultural knowledge, as well as fostering a tolerance for ambiguity. She wants her students to be able to engage with media made for fluent speakers of the language she is teaching and to understand that as long as they get the main idea it’s okay to not understand everything. For example, instead of insisting on more grammar assessments, she wants to provide her students with menus from real restaurants made for fluent speakers. She would also like to teach her students about the ways the language they are learning is changing. Too often students see language as static, when in reality it is a living breathing organism and changes with the people who speak it. For example, there is an on-going debate on how to incorporate they/them pronouns into gendered languages like French and Spanish. There is no present official agreed-upon solution for such pronouns; however, for Spanish the unofficial consensus is “elle,” while for French it’s “iel.” This topic is very controversial and subject to immense change. Within the past few years alone, the Spanish language has produced multiple solutions to replace the masculine or feminine end to gendered terms like the use of -x, -@, or -e instead of -o or -a. However none of the solutions have been officially recognized by the Spanish-language academy. The French language is in a similar position as the French-language academy has also not officially recognized “iel.” Ms. Diffenderfer would like to, in future, work with the GSoA (Gender and Sexual Orientation Alliance) to educate FCS students on these current shifts in language.
Outside of wanting to implement the above changes within the language curriculums she’s teaching, Ms. Diffenderfer would also like to see more representation of non-western languages like Mandarin and Arabic languages. Specifically in regards to Mandarin, students provided the opportunity to learn this language could also learn more about the culture of their international classmates.
We hope Ms. Diffenderfer will have a wonderful career here at Friend’s Central and cannot wait to see how her above aspirations change the FCS community!