Edgar Serrano knows how to wield the power of language.

Erinn Holloway, Dr. Reyna Vergara and Edgar Serrano
Erinn Holloway, Edgar Serrano and Dr. Reyna Vergara

Originally from Mexico City, Serrano used his ability to speak Spanish to help him build a furniture company in Tupelo into a multi-million dollar operation that did business throughout the world.

After Serrano lost his job at the furniture company, he used his language skills to forge a new path as an educator and as an advocate. Much of that work has come in the state of Mississippi, where Serrano often sees foreign language instruction viewed as a “second thing.”

As executive director of the Mississippi Foreign Language Association (MFLA), Serrano’s job is to encourage active interest and research in languages other than English as well as the advancement of the study and teaching of English in schools, college and universities in the state.

On Nov. 10-11, Serrano and the MFLA’s annual conference will come to the Mississippi University for Women in hopes of building cultural awareness and showing how the power of foreign languages can be used to increase empathy.

“One of the roles of the MFLA is to help our teachers network with other professionals,” said Serrano, a lecturer of Spanish at the University of Mississippi. “We are in a state that not many schools have a foreign language department, so many teachers are the only person at their school who works in foreign languages. Our organization provides a way for teachers to collaborate, to learn from each other and to be part of a place they belong.”

The conference is open to all foreign language and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers in the state of Mississippi. Serrano said the agenda for the conference is still being finalized, but he said the conference will emphasize the power of language and connection and how teachers can use those things to help students forge pathways into so many careers.

Serrano said the conference also will educate teachers and students about how they can become bigger advocates for foreign languages.

“We need to make sure we all learn from each other,” Serrano said. “When you come in close contact with other teachers, you can see what they’re doing and you can learn from their experiences.”

Serrano was president of the MFLA from 2016-18. He also is the president-elect for the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL). Since its founding in MFLA, Serrano said the MFLA has worked to break down barriers and to educate people about the importance of learning a foreign language.

Serrano said the ability to speak a foreign language is growing in a multi-lingual world and economy. He said it is crucial for students to start learning a new language when they are young because it will help give them a better chance to compete in the global workplace. That is part of the reason the MFLA supports the Mississippi Department of Education’s Mississippi Seal of Biliteracy, which recognizes and awards students who have attained proficiency in one or more world languages and English by high school graduation. The Seal of Biliteracy demonstrates attainment of biliteracy for students, employers and postsecondary institutions. It signals a student’s readiness for college and career and for engagement as a global citizen.

Serrano said the MFLA also advocates for languages with lawmakers in Washington. He said Columbus is an ideal place to hold the MFLA’s annual conference and for foreign languages to grow because of the presence of the Columbus Air Force Base. Serrano said the ability to speak another language is crucial for military members who are serving in other countries as well as students who work for international companies that call Mississippi home. He said there is tremendous potential for students to capitalize on business partnerships with other countries, like Mexico, and to stay in the state and not leave for another opportunity in a bigger state.

“The conference will give attendees a chance to see everyone reaching for pathways and ways to continue with language education,” Serrano said. “It is crucial to speak multiple languages to strengthen our national security, diplomacy, and more robust business relations. People forget that 75% of the world doesn’t speak English, and when they speak English how proficient are they?”

The cost is $50 for teachers and $25 for students. The conference will offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs) that teachers can use to renew their teaching certification.

To register for the conference or to get more information about the MFLA, go to: https://www.mflams.org/ and fill out the contact information at the bottom of the page. There also will be a free conference workshop “Embracing Differences in the Language Learning Classroom” on Saturday, Nov. 11.

Also at https://www.mflams.org/ or at https://www.muw.edu/llp/teachingcontest/, you can register to take part in The W’s Teaching Contest 2024.

For more information about the benefits of attending the MFLA conference, contact Dr. Reyna Vergara, assistant professor of Spanish at The W, at revergara@muw.edu, or Erinn Holloway, Spanish instructor at The W, at echolloway@muw.edu.

“Having the conference at The W really means a lot because we need to show we are together as a unity of teachers to teach each other and to support each other,” Serrano said. “I cannot be more than thankful for what it is doing and opening its doors so teachers can get to know each other better. We can transform Mississippi together, and The W is part of that transformation.”

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.