Bill Weir Loves Language Teachers — Wishes He Had Listened to His

Bill Weir, travel correspondent and host of CNN Wonder List, has his dream job. He gets to jet all over the world to capture images and weave stories together from what he finds. It’s all perfect, except for one thing — Bill is monolingual.

Steve Leveen interviews Bill Weir

Steve Leveen interviews Bill Weir: “I kick myself…”

“I wish I could travel back in time and punch my teenage self in the face for not paying attention. I was one of those horrible language students who didn’t figure I would ever need it.”

Bill, although an engaging speaker, seemed an odd choice to address thousands of language teachers at the 2017 ACTFL annual convention in Nashville in November. But Bill is full of praise for the teachers helping today’s American teens gain their multilingual chops, including one special teacher Bill met in the green room before she went on stage — Ying Jin. She had just won National Language Teacher of the Year — the first Chinese teacher to do so. In this episode, we’ll take you behind the scenes with Bill and Ying to hear what they hope for America.

CNN Travel - The Wonder List with Bill Weir Clip
The Wonder List with Bill Weir

Regrets of an International Reporter

Bill has been traveling to Patagonia and Egypt, to Madagascar and Bhutan, to New Zealand and Vanuatu. He is in search of places on the planet on the brink of change, in search of what makes people happy, and in search of environmental assaults as we continue to inflict harm on our biosphere. Yet every time the seatbelt sign comes on and he’s about to land in another country, he feels regret that he speaks only English.

“I hated conjugation. I hated vocabulary,” Bill admitted to the thousands of language teachers in the audience during his keynote address. “And I if I could go back in time, if I could build a time machine where I could reach through a portal and grab my high school or college self by the neck, when I was being such an obstinate brat about language studies and tell them, ‘You’re going to need this! You need this language when they send you to Chile to do live coverage of miners trapped in a mine, or when they sent you to Puerto Rico to cover Hurricane Maria, or any other places around the world that I’ve been lucky enough to visit.’ Every time I kick myself…”

Steve interviewing a smiling Bill Weir

Bill Weir: “My little girl loves Latin!”

In an interview after his speech, he brightened as he spoke of his 13-year old daughter. “My little girl loves Latin! Because her professor is one of these brilliant, gifted teachers who touches her in a certain way, as you know, with passion about the language.”

Bill hopes his daughter will continue with Spanish, and perhaps Mandarin and Arabic, doing what he wishes he had done.

Fifty years after America immigration reform, a beautiful harvest of languages

American immigration reform in the 1960s opened the door to building an America more representative of the world. It abolished all reference to race, which had been written into prior immigration laws. One of the results was the arrival of more Asians, including more Chinese, whose American children and grandchildren now succeed so fluidly in universities and in the professions. Another result is that Chinese is the third-most-spoken language in the United States after English and Spanish, now spoken by almost 3 million Americans. Moreover, it’s an increasingly popular language among students who don’t have Chinese heritages. When Ying Jin was awarded ACTFL’s National Language Teacher of the Year at its annual convention November 17-19, it marked a milestone in our changing American landscape. Fifty years after the immigration law went into effect, our American ambassador for languages will be a teacher of Chinese.

Ying Jin and Steve Leveen

Ying Jin, National Language Teacher of the Year for 2018,  50 years after America reformed its immigration law to open itself to the world.

I was able to catch up with Ying the day she was selected from among five regional finalists. I asked her what she was feeling.

“I’m a little scared and definitely excited, not just that I’m the first Chinese language teacher of the year, but rather, that I’m going to represent all languages.”

What’s her message to America, I ask.

“I really feel like every American should be proficient in English and at least one other world language. That’s really what I want to tell our society. Learning a language is beautiful and understanding that culture is beautiful. I know we’re behind, compared with a lot of other countries, but you know, let’s do it! We should work together to help American kids to be 21st-century ready.”

Hear the story, be the story

Hear Bill Weir and Ying Jin on Episode 18 of America the Bilingual. We are a storytelling podcast for those helping to create the bilingual movement in America.

Steve and staff conducting an interview

We interviewed dozens of world language teachers and administrators at their national convention in Nashville. Their voices will appear in future episodes.

Listen 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.

We invite you to join the movement by signing up at America the Bilingual.

The America the Bilingual field recording team: Fernando Hernandez, Steve Leveen, Beckie Rankin

The America the Bilingual field recording team: Fernando Hernandez, Steve Leveen, Beckie Rankin


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

Special thanks to Marty Abbott, Desa Dawson, Bill Anderson, Julia Richardson and Erin Whelchel of ACTFL, and to Michelle van Gilder and Amanda Seewald of the Lead with Languages campaign. A shout out to the Freeman company and their staff in Nashville who created such a welcoming recording booth for us at the convention.

Steve and Fernando in the America the Bilingual office

Thanks to ACTFL and the Freeman company for the special attention to our recording facility

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

Kevin Macleod — Quasi Motion

Jason Shaw- Jenny’s Theme

Mystery Mammal and Hank