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Understanding National Standards for Foreign Languages

Understanding National Standards for Foreign Languages

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson,students evaluate the origins and purpose of the National Standards for Foreign Language. In addition, students analyze the parts of the Foreign Language Standards as they relate to modern languages and Latin.

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In this tutorial, we'll explore the National Standards for Foreign Languages. We'll begin with a history of these standards. And then we'll look at an overview of the National Standards for Foreign Languages. Finally, we'll share some considerations that you can keep in mind as you take a closer look at these standards.

First, how did these standards come to be? Development of the foreign language standards was funded by a three-year US Department of Education grant and by the National Endowment for the Humanities. An 11-member task force was assembled, with members representing a variety of world languages, instructional levels, program models, and geographic regions. This group met with the overall goal of developing content standards that would define what students should know and what students should be able to do in foreign language education.

The result was a document called Standards for Foreign Language Learning-- Preparing for the 21st Century. This document was published in 1996. It was a groundbreaking document, as it represented an unprecedented consensus not only among educators, but among business leaders, government officials, and the community in general on the definition and the role of foreign language instruction in the American educational system.

This standards document has been used by curriculum developers, teachers, and administrators at local and state levels to work on continuous improvement of foreign language education in our nation's schools. The third edition of these standards is now available, titled Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century.

The National Standards for Foreign Language are divided into five categories-- communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. The communication standards emphasize the importance of being able to communicate in languages other than English across a wide variety of topics in order both to obtain and present information. Learners should also be able to express emotions, feelings, and opinions to varying audiences.

The cultures standards emphasize the importance of learning about and understanding other cultures, including both their perspectives and their practices. Connections refers to the importance of connecting foreign language standards with other disciplines. Acquiring information from these other disciplinary areas helps to increase student knowledge and understandings across the disciplines and across a variety of viewpoints.

Comparisons refers to having students make comparisons of their own language and culture with other languages and cultures around the world. This helps students to develop insight into the overall nature of language and culture. Finally, communities-- students should participate in multilingual communities both at home and around the world whenever possible. This could happen within the school setting, using technology, or by actually visiting other locations around the world. These opportunities help students to develop a commitment to learning the language for the purpose of communication and also for personal growth.

Here are a few items to consider. First, there is a separate set of standards available for teaching classical languages-- in other words, those languages that are not spoken aloud. These standards focus on communicating through reading, interpreting and listening, gaining knowledge and understanding of the Greco-Roman culture, connecting with other disciplines, developing insight into one's own language and culture through comparisons, and participating in language and cultural communities through understanding of Latin and Greek connections to other languages and cultures. You can definitely see the similarities between these classical language standards and the National Standards for Foreign Languages.

It's also important to note that some schools have started to use an assessment from the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages that allows students to demonstrate competency in a selected world language. This test can be used at the end of a course of study or it can be used to test out of a language requirement if a student has knowledge from outside of the school setting.

One example is in Rhode Island in the Providence Public School District, where students can take this assessment. And if they pass it, they are awarded credit for a world language class without having to take the course. That allows them to use that time to study in other areas of interest or in other world languages.

In this tutorial, we looked at the history and structure of the National Standards for Foreign Languages. We also shared some considerations, including the fact that there is a separate set of standards in existence for the teaching of classical languages. Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Do you see how a focus on the five Cs-- communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities-- can enhance the instruction in a world language classroom?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Understanding National Standards for Foreign Languages"

(00:00 - 00:18) Introduction

(00:19 - 01:38) History

(01:39 - 03:13) Overview

(03:14 - 04:36) Considerations

(04:37 - 04:50) Review

(04:51 - 05:25) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

National Standards for Foreign Language Education

The American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL) has published an official website for the National Foreign Language Standards. These standards are based on the 5 Cs: Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Foreign Language Instructional Activities

This Virginia Department of Education site provides resources for teaching using foreign language standards. Scroll down to access lesson plans, rubrics, and resources aligned to the standards. The activities link provides lesson plans with embedded resources and teacher guidance.