January - February 2015
Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Learning Strategies
Students in the same language class typically differ in proficiency level and
skill in language learning. When all students are given the same language task,
those who feel confident that they can do the task successfully and have
effective learning tools will likely be much more motivated to expend the
effort to complete the task than those who believe that the task is too
difficult and cannot figure out how to approach it. How can the language
teacher plan appropriate instruction that meets the needs of both types of
students? This article describes a combination of two approaches that can be
effective: differentiating instruction and teaching language learning strategies.
November - December 2014
One Strategy for a National Foreign Language Framework: Begin at the Local Level
For the past 50 years, various surveys, national panels, and presidential
commissions have all concluded that the United States is deficient, if not
negligent, in the importance it places in foreign language education and
the need to create a bilingual or multilingual populace. Consider the
following statements that encourage the inclusion of foreign languages in
our schools … The formulation of a national foreign language framework
depends very much for its success on the local level programs. This
article will list conditions prevalent at the local level that need to
be addressed if we are to establish a national rationale for foreign
language proficiency in America and offer solutions for its implementation.
To be successful on the national level requires great changes at the local
March - April 2014
Internationalizing Schools to Build Global Competence:
Some Considerations for Teachers
In the U.S. there has been a recent and growing focus on educating for
global competence (see, e.g., here and here). The U.S. Department of
Education launched its first ever U.S. international strategy in 2012
intended to strengthen the U.S. education system and advance U.S.
international priorities. The three specific objectives include increasing
global competences, learning from other countries, and engaging in
education diplomacy. Despite the increased focus on enhancing international
perspectives in education, it is not always clear to practitioners what
internationalization of education or educating for global competence means
at the school level, and how it can be built into current school practice.
This article focuses on three questions:
- Why is fostering global competence through education important?
- What does internationalization of education or educating for global competence mean?
- How might practitioners build internationalization at the school level?
How might practitioners build internationalization at the school level?
An examination of these three questions will introduce comprehensive
internationalization as a powerful mechanism for enriching students'
global competence and cultural proficiency.
January - February 2014
Creating A Learning Environment Where Target Language Is "Standard"
In order to develop language and cultural proficiency, meaningful communication
and interactive feedback must be provided in the target language. To accomplish
this, instructors must use a variety of strategies to facilitate comprehension
and support meaning making. The following principles stem from a review of the
research literature and effective practices observed among teacher practitioners
who make nearly exclusive use of the TL in their language classrooms. These
teaching and learning strategies are designed to assist language teachers to
introduce and sustain the TL while creating an engaging learning environment
which approximates authentic language communication.
November - December 2013
Using Film Clips to Promote Listening and Cultural Proficiency
What can be more culturally authentic than movies? The language, the
scenery, the sets, they all reflect a slice of true life. Hear a variety
of authentic speech patterns. Watch how table manners play out in a
formal setting, in a family kitchen, or at a fast food restaurant.
See landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes as backdrops for the action.
Hear music and other sounds that are characteristic of a particular place.
Viewing one- to five-minute clips of movies enhances student listening
abilities and leads to better cultural understanding. There are a variety
of activities and assessments that increase listening proficiency, but our
experience shows that movies are a great item to add to the lesson plan.
September - October 2013
Fostering multiliteracies through a global simulation approach in intermediate French: A curricular project
…proposed a pedagogy of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996)
to… encourage students to interpret and think critically about discourse
through a variety of contexts and textual genres. Central to a multiliteracies
approach is the notion that language use is informed by participation in
specific discourses from the standpoint of particular social roles. Global
simulation is one pedagogical approach conducive to fostering learners'
multiliteracies. In this article, we discuss the development and implementation
of a multiliteracies-oriented GS in 4th-semester French. … Today, it is no
longer enough for learners to be able to accurately construct and understand
sentences to convey or receive information; they have to develop the ability
to understand, interpret, and produce a variety of multimodal texts in the
target language, and understand how language and other symbolic systems are
used in order to design meaning (Kramsch 2006, p. 251).
May - June 2013
Change for Success: Accommodating STEM Students
As Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives take root in K-12 schools, students entering college increasingly regard language study as a way to widen the scope of their primary fields of inquiry. Since students also often incur considerable debt during their undergraduate years, they question the practical application of the humanities to their future careers. Their pragmatism has led to a significant decline of humanities programs based on national literatures and cultures. Sweeping changes in K-12 education continue to pose a significant challenge to university language programs struggling to retain students in more advanced-level literature-focused courses. Students who understand that languages teach skills and strategies relevant for meaningful social expression and global interaction demand more courses with practical applicability. Target language internships and STEM-focused short-term study abroad options may help sustain language programs where current institutional structures constrain widespread curricular revision.
Many K-12 schools are adapting faster to the digital revolution than institutions of higher learning and students accustomed to immediate access to target language material and technology-based language instruction enter colleges where faculty and classroom facilities are often ill-equipped to meet their expectations. Barring a complete curricular overhaul, language and literature faculty can rethink their course goals and learning outcomes to effect relatively small curricular changes to provide linguistic practice for STEM students. Examples of such changes include:
- Substituting a novel from the traditional literature canon with a biography written about or by a scientist, mathematician or engineer. This provides target language vocabulary and discussion content that more closely relates to students’ area of expertise, while retaining a focus on literary analysis
- Updating traditional composition and conversation courses to include technical writing, email etiquette, analysis of professional documentation, scientific or engineering texts, and intercultural communication conventions
- Focusing on promoting technological and media literacy in the target language, which involves learning how to speak and write about the technology and critically analyze technologically mediated texts and audio-visual material
- Collaborating closely with the on-campus study abroad or community engagement offices to determine and integrate viable study abroad and internship options into language curricula.
Despite the fact that K-12 language teachers receive their language training in the Liberal Arts colleges and their methods instruction in colleges of Education, most universities do not allow for easy collaboration between those two entities. This greatly impedes standards-based 21st century language teacher training. Once placed in the field, language teachers often work alone or are members of a small group of faculty in their schools. In terms of professional development opportunities, they may have access to in-service days (often organized to benefit larger, non-language focused faculty), local workshops, and annual conferences hosted by their state, regional or language-specific professional associations.
However, in recent years, lack of funding has made conference attendance financially difficult and language organizations increasingly offer webinars which provide predominantly one-way-communication. While interactive web-based discussion groups are there for enterprising teachers to find, the landscape is complex and time-consuming to navigate. Furthermore, even global communities of practice, such as webheadsinaction.org, are often hampered by platform incompatibility. Thus, turning to the web is not necessarily the answer. Professional development for language teachers preparing for STEM-oriented students should become a priority for professional language associations such as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).
In turn, university language departments must move from “doing business as usual” and become more proactive, valuing language faculty’s role in educating their students and future teachers. They must therefore recognize that a successful language program must undergo significant curriculum development. For language instructors this involves content changes, integration of technology as well as community and professional outreach. Departments must therefore find ways to compensate engaged faculty’s efforts. These initiatives could include:
- preparing STEM students for global communication in their fields through changing instructional foci and delivery modes in their language courses
- Seeking private and public partnerships with businesses and international cultural organizations such as Conexões Itaú Cultural, Instituto Camões, Instituto Cervantes, Alliance Française, Goethe Institut
- Utilizing available technologies to create digital communities of practice across languages, institutions, and instructional levels
- Instituting clear K-16 articulation for each language and inviting collaboration while providing ongoing professional development opportunities for all language instructors
At the institutional level, faculty and administration must seek to bridge the gap that exists between colleges, possibly by maintaining an active liaison from the language faculty with the College of Education. Providing institutional data on incoming STEM students with prior language preparation or interest in learning a new language would allow colleges to strengthen K-16 articulation and sustainable language instruction. Beyond the individual language program, departments and universities can utilize physical proximity to other institutions or technology to collaborate and instruct STEM students in less commonly taught languages.
As institutions foster inner- and inter-institutional collaboration, future teachers will, in turn, develop a collaborative mindset. Not doing so sets language professionals up for failure in the STEM learning environment and fails to provide students with much-needed linguistic and cultural preparation.
March - April 2013
Language Learners in a Digital World
Technology and 21st century skills are essential in preparing world language learners to communicate effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital world. Today’s technologies can be used to support and enhance language and cultural learning. When opportunities are provided for learners to use digital media and resources in active engaging learning experiences, we are supporting them in the development of two critical lifelong learning skills of the 21st century: 1.) communication in another language and 2.) the ability to make discerning and effective use of technological tools to access, collaborate, create and distribute information across cultures and geographical borders.
Digital Learning is more than just using the technology tools; it’s the instructional strategies for personalized, authentic, student-centered learning. Teachers provide opportunities for engaging and meaningful learning experiences for language learners. Young learners are naturally intuitive and adept with emerging technologies, including virtual gaming, augmented reality, social networking, and use of mobile devices.
The iPad has revamped teaching and learning with interactive apps, access to online resources, ibooks, videos, music, and the HD camera to engage and empower students beyond our expectations. The many apps for learning languages, as well as interactive books, podcasts, and videos in iTunes immerse students in the target language. Here are just a few activities that utilize these apps for supporting and enhancing language learning.
Creativity and Innovation, Technology Literacy /Reading/Interpretive
QR Code Readers
Generate QR codes, phrases, short narratives in the target language or have students generate QR codes for each other to scan and read with a QR scan app. QR codes can also be used to embed links to videos or places on a map. is a language detecting QR code generator from Wikipedia. Use a QR Code Reader app to scan for maps, information, photos of places, or people of other cultures.
Scavenger Word Hunt using the iPad HD camera
Create a scavenger hunt for students to learn vocabulary words. Form teams of 3 or 4 students. Prepare by generating QR codes in the target language at the website www.QRstuff.com. Ask each group to scan QR codes for their “mystery word.” Students use the iPad camera to take 5-10 photos that represent their word. Students create a slide show (music is optional) as clues to share with the other groups, who guess their word.
QR codes from top to bottom: Video, Text or Characters, Website
Please click here for additional apps activities for Creativity and Innovation, Technology Literacy /Reading/Interpretive
Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Collaboration Reading, Writing, Speaking/ Interpersonal " Presentational
Digital Storytelling with Claymation using iStop Motion and iMovie
Students work independently or in teams using a storyboard to plan and script a story, based on a thematic unit. Students then create their characters with clay, set up a backdrop, and use their iPads with the app iStop Motion to capture images for Claymations. Save the Claymation to the photo gallery, then easily import into iMovie to add narration, sound effects, and music. Students in Cape Henlopen’s Chinese Summer Camp created stories based on the theme of protecting the ocean. Their sea characters became sick because of the pollution. Hai Long Wong, the Sea Dragon, came to their rescue. The message was that everyone needs to do his or her part to protect the ocean.
Use the app Word Collage (or web 2.0 tools, Wordle, Taxedo, TagCloud, Tagul) as a way to introduce a topic for discussion, develop vocabulary, create word associations, match words, assessment and reflection.
Please click here for additional apps activities for Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Collaboration: Reading, Writing, Speaking/ Interpersonal and Presentational.
Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Technology Literacy Speaking, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal
Apps such as Comic Life, Comic Strip, and Comic Touch are some ways that students can create an interpersonal dialog in the target language with cartoon characters.
Record a reflection
Students record responses to a question prompt. This can be used for informal assessment, measuring and tracking progress, understanding of concepts.
Please click here for additional apps activities for Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Technology Literacy:
Speaking, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal
Media Literacy, Social and Cross Cultural Skills Listening and Reading, Interpretive
Listen to music with words
Have students listen to a song and view the lyrics and artwork to interpret. iTunes preferences on a computer can be used to insert the lyrics. Students using iPod touch devices can follow along with the words in the target language.
Create a sound collage
Students mix or remix audio and sound clips in Garageband to be used in a project.
Please click here for additional apps activities for Media Literacy, Social and Cross Cultural Skills: Listening and Reading, Interpretive
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Technology Literacy
Reading, Writing, Presentational
Use the app Corkulous, IdeaSketch, or Simple Notes for brainstorming, note taking and organizing.
Use the app Sekai to create airtags in the target language. Create a photo or video of the animated Chinese dragon in China with the Aurasma app.
Please click here for additional apps activities for Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Technology Literacy: Reading, Writing, Presentational
Productivity and Accountability/ Assessment
Draw/ illustrate/ Matching with Color
Create a labeled image that will open in a drawing app for students to color to learn numbers in the target language or have students create their own and exchange with classmates. Use Doodle Buddy, Drawing Pad or other illustration app.
Use Google Forms to create a “Can Do” Survey
Create an icon on the home screen of the iPad for students to access and take this survey for instant data collection for teachers in a spreadsheet.
Creating a rich, digital learning environment for language learners requires planning and preparation in applying technological tools and resources for authentic, engaging experiences for each learner.
The International Society for Technology in Education’s Standards for Students, along with World Language and Common Core Standards, provides a foundation for designing innovative learning opportunities through challenge and project- based learning. To learn more about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and access the complete ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map, visit http://www.p21.org
Download print format of the entire article (PDF)
January- February 2013
Learning Russian in the 21st Century: Connecting to STEM
For two years, the University of Washington STARTALK Russian Program has tackled the challenge of connecting the study of Russian language to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). For Russian, it turned out to be a natural connection through the theme of “Russian in the Sky and in Outer Space” carried out in partnership with the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Add to that a focus on heritage Russian speakers (of which there are many in Washington state), and we found this STEM connection to offer a strong cultural component, as well as context for interviews with local Russian-speaking experts in engineering, technology, math, and science from Microsoft, Boeing, and the University of Washington itself.
The UW STARTALK Russian Program, funded by the US Department of Defense STARTALK program for critical languages, is a four-week intensive language program for high-school to early college age students who already have strong oral proficiency in Russian, but vary in their ability to read and write it. Over twenty students have participated in the program each summer.
The STEM focus was selected for this program in order to go beyond elementary language learning to a student-centered curriculum driven by problem-solving, discovery and exploratory learning where students would expand their linguistic skills in Russian by actively engaging in a situation in order to find its solution. For example, students participated in lessons about Mars exploration and completed the “Voyage to Mars” simulation at the Museum of Flight where they demonstrated their ability to understand spoken and written technical instructions, effectively solve life support problems, and communicate in Russian even in a high-stress (simulated) setting. During “The Space Race” lesson, students discovered the long and complex history of Russian and US competition and collaboration in space exploration. They had to use authentic Russian artifacts, texts, and websites to find answers to essential questions, such as,
- When were different spacecraft and sputniks launched?
- Which astronauts and cosmonauts (including animals) were in space?
- What achievements (discoveries) were done during these flights?
Creating a timeline of Russian and American space exploration involved the students in comparing Russian and American points of view about the most important events of space exploration, using critical thinking and comprehension of non-fiction text, while being introduced to academic vocabulary on space topics.
At the Aviation Learning Center of the Museum of Flight, the program instructors facilitated exploratory learning centers and provided materials (charts, diagrams, computer visual presentations, etc.) and guidance for students to immerse themselves in training to be “pilots for a day.” Flight simulation followed aerodynamic labs, preflight checking of a real Cirrus-SR 20 airplane, and completion of a navigation chart. The hands-on learning at the Aviation Learning Center gave the students the ability to understand and effectively participate in an interview about plane aerodynamics in Russian with a Boeing engineer when they returned to class.
Communications tasks followed the lessons and field trips to show how problem solving, expository writing and analysis, and critical thinking fit in. After the Museum of Flight simulations, the students talked about their roles/jobs, their activities, findings and feelings. They took brief written notes, based on which they then developed rough drafts and final versions for the written essay about their experiences. The whole range of tasks included narration about the events of space exploration and aircraft building, description of Earth and Mars as planets of the Solar system, comparison of different types of aircraft, and a persuasive essay based on comparison.
Integrated Performance Assessments, called “The Sky without boundaries” («Небо без границ»), clearly linked to the STEM content and Museum experiences. Students were divided into groups of two or three and given a short video (with no sound) about one particular event of space exploration or airplanes that they became familiar with in the program. During the working process, students were expected to interpret the content of the short videos, discuss it in their groups (in Russian), find and choose additional information from the collection of texts related to their video topics using Internet resources, then develop brief written notes, a rough draft, and final version for oral presentation in a formal style. After the presentations, the students asked and answered questions (in Russian) and made notes about the other groups’ presentations.
The UW Russian STARTALK program itself is in a process of “continuous improvement,” expanding from the voyage to Mars unit in year 1 to space and a new unit on airplanes in year 2. For 2013, the STARTALK team plans to add Applied Math lessons in Russian and a project on Digital Storytelling, based on using computer technology (in Russian, of course).
Because the UW STARTALK Russian Student Program is closely linked to the STARTALK-funded Teacher Program, we can offer a wealth of lesson plans and videos on the UW STARTALK website. Check out, for example:
While this program was developed for Russian, it is not hard to imagine taking a similar approach to other languages, even with the aerospace theme. For example, Japan and China have been active in space exploration. A quick online search yields a wealth of resources, starting with a Wikipedia article on the Chinese space program and interesting features on http://spaceflightnow.com. The basic lesson plans could be adapted to other languages, cultures, and situations. The main thing pedagogically is the focus on problem-solving, collaboration in groups, and research and sharing of information both interpersonally and through presentational writing and speaking. Tapping into community resources, such as museums and local native speakers for interviews, brings the program to life and makes the learning of complex vocabulary and language structures worthwhile.
For more information about the 2013 UW STARTALK Russian Programs with a STEM focus, visit http://depts.washington.edu/startalk or email email@example.com
Language or Languages at the Core?
A striking feature of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects (2010) is the pivotal role that literacy plays in schooling and the interrelatedness of language, literacy and subject matter learning. College and Career Ready Standards, a precursor to Common Core Standards (CCS), also establish cross-disciplinary literacy expectations that presume shared responsibility among various disciplines for the development of English language and literacy.
In a similar interdisciplinary vein, U.S. educators and policy makers of science and technical subjects have argued for an integrated and improved approach to the study of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects (National Academy of Sciences, 2009). The focus again is one of leaving behind the “siloed” approach to teaching and learning and instead embracing opportunities for interconnections. Also, both CCS and STEM initiatives underscore the need for the U.S. to develop a globally competitive workforce, one that possesses the subject knowledge and communication skills to address 21st century issues.
What is missing from these two documents, however, is an explicit mention of world languages and cultures education as an essential component of a well-designed, standards-based curriculum that aims to prepare a globally competitive workforce. It would seem that learning languages other than English is still viewed by some as a dispensable add-on, a useful supplement once you have accomplished the basics.
How can world language educators promote a shift in focus away from “(English) Language at the Core” to “Languages at the Core?” Download full article (PDF)
Languages at the Core
Alignment of Common Core and Standards for Learning Languages
Learning another language can directly develop the skills described in the Common Core State Standards, when the national standards for learning languages guide the assessment and instruction. The Common Core State Standards are a unique document representing uncommon agreement among state departments of education on what students should know and be able to do in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Led by the Council of Chief State School Officers, the process grew out of the realization that a great deal of commonality already existed in states’ standards in those two subject areas. For the first time, 48 states agreed to engage in the process of creating a common set of standards, reserving the right to adopt the final standards upon completion. In the end, 46 states adopted the ELA standards and 45 adopted the mathematics standards. This unique process resulted in the only standards that will officially be called Common Core (state led groups are creating new science and social studies standards, leading to a proposed common set of standards, but they did not start with the buy-in that ELA and mathematics had and will not be labeled “Common Core”).
Languages are in the position of already having considerable commonality in state standards. Most states’ standards for languages have maintained the three modes of communication and the important links with culture and a rich content (represented in the standards of connections, comparisons, and communities). Some states have condensed the standards into a single standard of communication, but even then the description of progress toward that goal of communication describes performance of interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication. Ever since language educators began implementing the standards in 1995, the standards proved their flexibility and adaptability across all languages, for all ages and grades of learners, and in programs varying from brief experiences to immersion. The standards document may need refreshing to account for new emphases on 21st century skills and new technology, but support remains strong for the essence of the five goal areas and eleven standards.
How do the language standards connect with Common Core? They are a perfect match! The Common Core State Standards for English language arts contain four strands: reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language. These four strands are described in anchor standards that are further delineated for each grade level, kindergarten through grade 12. The following graphic shows clearly the connection of the language standards with Common Core, which is captured in a crosswalk document available at www.actfl.org/commoncore:
The Common Core strand of Language corresponds with how language learners improve their command of their new language, well described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Common Core describes growth in the strand of language as increasing accuracy in applying language conventions, knowing how language functions, and expanding precision of understanding and using vocabulary. These descriptions parallel language learners’ improved use of the target language as they move from novice, to intermediate and higher levels.
Implied Changes in Assessment and Instruction
The easy part is to make this conceptual link of language standards with Common Core. To actually put this into practice implies some important changes in our assessment and instruction. Common Core does not describe content to teach but rather outlines the skills that need to be developed in a standards-based program, just as the national language standards focus on skills to develop and don’t dictate content. The three modes of communication provide us with a clear outline for designing assessment and instruction that will support and develop the skills described in the Common Core.
Language learners will develop Common Core literacy in listening and speaking when they practice strategies to initiate and maintain a conversation, negotiate meaning, ask follow-up questions, ask for clarification, and come to agreement. This requires creating a need to engage in conversation, to find out information, to exchange ideas, to come to consensus. Interpersonal tasks need to go beyond merely reporting. Collaboration is essential and might be practiced as students prepare for a presentational task or discuss what they learned in an interpretive task.
Language learners will develop Common Core literacy in listening and reading when they practice strategies to figure out what the writer, speaker, or producer wants them to understand. This is not translation. Learners need to acquire a variety of strategies to access meaning, including hypothesizing about the meaning and then verifying as more and more bits of evidence emerge. Interpretive strategies to practice and to incorporate into assessment include skimming and scanning for key words and phrases to get the gist, predicting what might be in the “text,” looking for clues in structures or from the context, verifying if potentially true statements are logical or not. Common Core also suggests a balance of literary and informational text and sets the expectation that by grade 12, 75% of what students read will be informational text, better preparing them for the reading they will do in college or their careers.
Language learners will develop Common Core literacy in speaking and writing when they practice strategies to plan and organize their content, self-correct and peer-edit, research and present findings, and develop and carefully construct an argument.
Broadening the Content for Language Learning
The standards for language learning also provide a framework for linking with broader content, including the Common Core standards of mathematical practice. These overarching standards are to be part of mathematics instruction at each grade level and include reasoning, modeling, perseverance, and problem solving. These same habits can be practiced in the language classroom as students suspend their need to know every word and work to figure out meaning, rely on their creativity to express what they want to say with the often limited vocabulary or structures they may control, or negotiate meaning, or compare and contrast cultural phenomena. Language standards include connections, comparisons, and communities, thus encouraging language learners to use their new language to explore content in other subject areas. Teachers regularly have students group vocabulary into categories and chart the results, practicing mathematical and scientific reasoning.
Using the Standards for Learning Languages as a guide, language educators are poised to support the development of students’ literacy as described in the Common Core State Standards, simultaneously helping students acquire and practice the strategies that will improve their use of the target language.
ACTFL Webinar Series Fall 2012:
Linking Common Core and World Languages (Three Webinars)
Building Literacy via Communication Strategies (Three Webinars)
Going Global: Connecting Foreign Languages with Business
The word global seems to be everywhere lately. It's being added to company names and product lines, even academic degrees. But what does it really mean?
In the context of business, the term global emphasizes our interconnectedness across national borders: The t-shirt I'm wearing at the moment was purchased at a "local" store in the U.S. but it is made of cotton that was farmed in India and ginned on machinery made in Germany, with the final product cut and assembled in Indonesia.
What does it take to be successful in this global context? One approach comes in the form of the Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBERs), created in 1988 by Congress and administered by the Department of Education. The 33 CIBERs located at universities across the nation develop programming that leverages their local expertise and research in areas that can support U.S. businesses in the international marketplace.
A key goal of CIBERs is to make U.S. businesses more competitive in the global economy. Since success in business relies on the ability to understand and interact and communicate with global partners and competitors alike, a required area for all CIBERs is business language education.
Until CIBER funding existed, business language courses were primarily the territory of the "commonly taught languages," the languages with enrollments high enough to warrant offering such a specialized course outside the usual expertise of most language educators. CIBER support has changed the business language landscape in two exciting ways, namely
- all languages are now able to develop and expand their business language materials, offerings, etc.. In fact, CIBER support places particular focus on less commonly taught languages, many of which are categorized as "critical" to U.S. national security and economic strength;
- language educators now have access to much-needed education in the areas of business content and business language pedagogy. On top of individual CIBER workshop offerings, best practices and innovations in business language teaching are featured at the annual CIBER Business Language Conference .
Every CIBER has its own unique approach to linking language to business, depending on factors like local resources and faculty expertise. The business language programming of the CIBER at the George Washington University (GW-CIBER) serves as a good example of the kind of programs CIBERs offer:
Business Language Curriculum Development
CIBER support funded GW language faculty in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian to develop 15-week business language courses.
Materials for Business Language Teaching
Through CIBER, GW faculty in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, and Japanese developed business language "modules" which can be used to replace existing chapters in lower level language courses.
Professional Development for Business Language Faculty
GW-CIBER offers two annual professional development opportunities for language educators through the "Business Language Network," a platform for materials and ideas exchange.
Business Language Internship Opportunities
GW-CIBER's Study Abroad @ Homeprogram matches business language students with internships at international institutions with a base in Washington, DC.
For more complete descriptions, click here.
These examples show how just one CIBER takes advantage of the rich local resources for language teachers and learners. All created materials are available free online at GW-CIBER's Business Language site. For other examples of business language programming or to find a CIBER near you, visit the national CIBERweb and check back often for updates.
CIBERs and the Communities Standard
By linking language programs directly to the business context both at home and abroad, CIBERs encourage students to "participate in multilingual communities," the heart of the fifth National Standard in Foreign Language Education. Through partnering with businesses, for instance, and promoting use of the language in a new context outside of the classroom, business language programs help learners recognize the real advantage their language skills and cultural competence give them. Once learners have experienced the power of their language abilities in the real-world business context, they are often motivated to look for career opportunities, either at home or abroad, where they can continue to put those abilities to use.
Students in business language programs get to know business information resources in their local community and in other countries, and these resources can better inform them in areas relevant to them personally, such as long-term financial investment. These kinds of resources may well give them an advantage over the average monolingual American, and they can continue to turn to them -- and gain from them! -- in their personal lives in the years to come.
Integrating Business Language into Any Curriculum
Even without direct CIBER support, language educators at any level can make the link in their classes between business and their target language and cultures.
Let's look at a few concrete examples of ways teachers can connect their language teaching to business. One content area with a high level of interest for nearly all levels is careers. The topic can be viewed broadly enough to appeal to all levels, as long as it is modified according to interest and curricular relevance. Taking careers as a focus gives learners the opportunity to grapple with cultural products (e.g., resumes), practices (e.g., interviews), and perspectives. Tasks can be adjusted to make the language and culture input manageable.
- Reading job ads:
Working in pairs, students search job ads for jobs that require proficiency of any kind in the target language.
- Applying for a job:
Learners at a more advanced level take the "Reading job ads" task described above one step further, actually preparing themselves for the process of applying for one of the jobs they identified as a good fit for them.
- Using language skills on the job:
Guest business practitioners speak with students about the importance of knowing the target language in their job.
Click here for more detailed task descriptions.
In spite of increased contact across borders, language and culture continue to be barriers in international business (Kelm, 2011; Zhang 2011). Recent research even calls into question the assumption that English is the primary language of international commerce (Kuiper 2007). CIBERs stand behind the belief that an increase in foreign language and cultural knowledge will result in an increase in competitiveness in the global marketplace. CIBER business language programs offer a way to help remove the barriers by providing methods and resources for teaching business language.
For more ideas on connecting business to your language teaching, watch for the new "Business Language in Focus" column in future NCLRC Newsletters.
GW-CIBER. Business Language Program Overview, [accessed online 6/7/12 at:
CIBERweb. About CIBER, [accessed online 6/7/12 at: http://ciberweb.msu.edu/about/]
ACTFL (1996). National Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, [accessed online 7/1/12 at: http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3392]
Kelm, Orlando R. (2011). "Breathe Pure Chile: Teaching about the Cultural Differences in International Business," Global Business Languages: Vol. 16, Article 10. Available at: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/gbl/vol16/iss1/10
Kuiper, Alison. (2007). "English as the Language of International Business Communication,"
Business Communication Quarterly: Vol. 70, Issue 1, p59-63.
Zhang, Lan (2011) "How Business Professionals Perceive Intercultural Differences: A Survey," Global Business Languages: Vol. 16, Article 4. Available at: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/gbl/vol16/iss1/4
Windows and Mirrors: Cultural comparisons in the World Language Classroom
Comparisons as Human Nature
As human beings, we tend to want to classify and compare things. It’s what we do – it’s natural. When we see something new – let’s say a friend wants us to try kangkong (Cambodian water spinach) – we might first decide if it is animal, vegetable, or mineral (i.e., “This is green and leafy. It is vegetable.”) Then, we might classify the food as looking appetizing or not (i.e., I tend to like vegetables. I might like this.”) Finally, we might think about the cultural origin of the food (i.e., “This is Cambodian. I have eaten Thai food before, and I liked it. Maybe this will be similar?”) All of this classification, comparison and contrasting takes place in our heads in seconds. More often than not, we are unaware on a conscious level that these thoughts are taking place. But somehow, they help us to make sense of new situations and allow us to make meaning of our world.
Our ACTFL Standards
The ACTFL culture standards include an excellent framework for understanding the layered nature of culture by encouraging students to compare target cultures to their home culture. Standards 2.1 and 2.2 help teachers and students to classify culture by three intersecting elements: products, practices, and perspectives:
CULTURES: Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures
- Standard 2.1: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied
- Standard 2.2: Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied
In the language classroom, we expose students to “the three Ps” by taking fantasy trips, singing songs from the target culture, participating in role plays or cultural simulations, and in so many other ways. Standard 4.2 encourages us not just to explore, but to also compare cultures:
COMPARISONS: Develop Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture
- Standard 4.1: Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own
- Standard 4.2: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.
As we know from our own personal experiences, cultural comparisons are a natural part of our human ontology. So it is safe to say that our students, when exposed to new cultural information in our classes, automatically begin to compare and contrast this new information with their own cultural knowledge and beliefs. Our role as educators, then, is to serve as a shepherd of this process. Our charge is to think of ways to guide our students as they compare and contrast new cultural information in our classes, and to help them to make meaning of this new information.
Constructing Windows and Mirrors
In the field of multicultural education, we often refer to the idea of providing students with “windows and mirrors” (Style, E. Curriculum as Window and Mirror). We aim to design curricula that presents students with a window through which to observe different cultures, and a mirror to reflect and validate the student’s own, familiar culture. This symbolism works well for the world language classroom where we often focus on the differences of the target culture from our students’ cultures, but tend to focus less on providing those mirrors for reflection of students’ home culture. It is through the comparisons standard that we can facilitate some of that natural comparing and contrasting of familiar and unfamiliar by creating lessons and activities that get students exploring target cultures, while still connecting to home.
Language Educators as Tour Guides
Fantasy trips are an excellent means of getting students to “travel,” while never leaving the classroom. On a fantasy trip, students are taken on a carefully constructed journey where they can explore new cultures, and come “home” each night to compare them to their own. Using the theme of a fantasy trip, it is easy to view our role as tour guides. We can orchestrate a virtual journey for our students, complete with passports, maps, site visits, and postcards home.
What follows is a brief example of a cultural field trip for Spanish students to Michoacán, Mexico during el Día de los Muertos/The Day of the Dead. Through careful development of an itinerary and experiential activities, we can provide fun, interactive “windows,” and then set up activities that serve as “mirrors.” This fantasy trip activity exposes students to specific comparison activities both in and outside of the classroom. For a more detailed series of lessons, corresponding worksheets, and other materials for teaching students about the Day of the Dead, please visit any of the following webpages:
*Please note: the Day of the Dead is not for everyone! I have used all of the activities that follow with different ages, at different schools, and with very different results. It is always a good idea to connect with your broader school community (i.e., parents, supervisors, guidance counselors) before exploring this fascinating holiday with your students.
Day One: Depart for Michoacán
Students enter the classroom with their passports. The teacher stamps their passports and students board the “plane” (i.e., student desks arranged in airplane rows facing the front of the classroom with a screen or TV). On the flight, students can view an “in-flight movie” about the Day of the Dead in Mexico (try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kimX-rwPmyk). During viewing of the video, students can write new words that they hear or take notes about their impressions. For homework, students can watch another video, “Las Calaveras Están de Fiesta” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAdBfZI5uq0), which presents different professions vocabulary with Day of the Dead calaveras/skeletons. They should then fill out a T-chart like the one below, comparing the skeletons from the Day of the Dead to Halloween skeletons, using 3-6 adjectives each:
Day Two: Shopping for Souvenirs
The next day, students enter the classroom to find a virtual market set up using desks and tables. They are given Mexican pesos to shop for “souvenirs.” Among the items for sale, they find Day of the Dead items (i.e., a sugar skull, toy skeleton figurines, marigold flowers, and incense), along with Halloween items (i.e., a Superman mask, a pumpkin trick-or-treat pail, and snack size candy cars). For homework, students fill in a Venn diagram comparing elements from the Day of the Dead to elements from their own experiences during Halloween celebrations in the United States.
Day Three: An Ofrenda Viewing
When students arrive to class on day three, they find an ofrenda (a tiered offering to someone who has died) on the teacher’s desk. Copal incense might be burning, with marigold petals strewn over the desk, and festive Mexican music playing. Students can be offered snacks to eat as they walk around and should be encouraged to talk about what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel. If they feel comfortable, they can compare the ofrenda to any tribute or ceremony they experienced for a deceased loved one, or one that they had viewed on TV or in a movie. For homework, students can be asked to write a postcard in Spanish to a pen-friend who has never experienced the Day of the Dead. They should use their five senses to talk about the experience and to compare it to their own experiences.
Our own windows and mirrors
As the culture bearers for our students, it is important to share cultural information with our students in an open and transparent way. Very few of us – whether native, heritage or non-native speaker of our languages – can profess to be an expert on any one cultural topic. What we can do, however, is provide exposure to different products, practices, and perspectives as best we can, from as many diverse sources as possible. Students should feel comfortable exploring unfamiliar cultures while contrasting them to the familiar cultures of their home – and teachers need this freedom as well! In our role as guides in this process, we must be sensitive to the fluid and layered nature of culture by allowing students to question, compare, contrast, and explore freely. In this way, we can take these journeys alongside our students!
ACTFL (1996). National Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century, [accessed online 5/3/12 at: http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3392]
Style, Emily. (1996). Curriculum as Window and Mirror. Social Science Record, Fall 1996 [accessed online 5/3/12 at: http://www.library.wisc.edu/edvrc/docs/public/pdfs/SEEDReadings/CurriculumWindow.pdf]
Making connections inside and outside the foreign language classroom
The topic of Connections is one of great importance in the foreign language (FL) teaching field. One of the National Standards (2006) goal areas, the concept of making connections, networking, and linking is pervasive in our profession. Think about all the ways we language teachers need to and do connect in our daily professional and personal lives.
Connecting with research and with researchers
Teachers need continually to refresh their own FL skills and knowledge about how languages are learned. We must keep current in the field by reading second language acquisition (SLA) research to inform our own teaching practices. Engaging in action research is another powerful way to make connections between theory and classroom practice.
Connecting with FL colleagues
We should be making connections with colleagues – as often as we can. We need fresh ideas, inspiration, and good role models. Making these connections – call it networking – is so important for our own professional development and that of our colleagues. How do we do this? A few suggestions:
- Join professional organizations at all levels and participate – go to conferences, meet others who do what you do and/or who do things differently from you and learn from them.
- Participate in FLTEACH, the Foreign Language Teaching Forum online, or any other forum that meets your needs. Many folks out there share an interest in improving language teaching and learning – you just need to find them and then connect with them.
- Establish lunch round tables in your own department – meet once a week or bi-weekly to share ideas, activities and/or have a language immersion opportunity.
Connecting with the target language in the classroom
It is crucial for FL teachers to follow the guidance of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Position Paper on target language (TL) use published in May of 2010: “ACTFL therefore recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom.” Please note that this is everyone: teachers and students alike. We have to model this use . . . and our students will follow suit.
Connecting with students
Connecting personally with our students is the most important thing we can do in our classroom. A few suggestions from our colleagues in the field:
- Learn students’ names quickly and accurately. Use name cards on their desk, photos on your roster, collect information cards with personal data/interests on each student the very first day. Incorporate this information in your lessons.
- Keep current on TL music, singers, film stars, etc. Play the music regularly; many students will seek out more on their own when hooked.
- Show that you enjoy what you are doing.
- Think of the teachers that influenced you the most and figure out/analyze “why.” Then emulate them.
- Be approachable, be available, be accessible, make students feel important, show them respect, make them believe that they can learn.
- Be human, make mistakes, and let your students make mistakes.
- Make it clear in lots of ways that you really do care about them and their education.
- Share with students that you are still a learner too.
Connecting with your own language learning experience
Much research shows that we teach as we were taught (Britzman, 1991; Lortie, 1975). Think back for a moment to your initial and subsequent experiences as second language (L2) learners. Were these positive experiences? Negative ones? Mixed? How each and every one of us learned our L2(s) does influence how we make connections to our own classrooms, our students, our teaching. Make a conscientious effort to mirror the positive aspects you recall.
Connecting with the real world
We need to make connections between the FL we are teaching and our students’ world. We must show them the relevance of learning this language; learning a FL must be bigger and better than just studying another subject matter in school. Our students want to know the practical application of the knowledge we teachers are asking them to absorb, and in today’s world that is a legitimate question. Demonstrating the importance of the TL we teach to our students is the key. Below are a few suggestions to incorporate:
- Relate stories of graduates from your school who use the TL in their lives.
- Read classified ads in area newspapers that seek bilingual employees.
- Bring in TL speakers from the community.
- Read an article in a newspaper from a TL country that focuses on the same topic addressed in your community’s newspaper.
Connecting with other cultures
Connecting to other cultures in this global economy and world is necessary for a variety of reasons. Learning an FL and studying the concomitant cultures related to it is a basic skill in the 21st century (Partnership, 2011). We can so easily travel all around the world; we can work in the U.S. but connect to countries all over the globe in our job; we have need of linguists for national security purposes. It behooves us to embrace a polyglot status and abandon the monolingual stance of much of the United States population.
Connecting in the 5Cs sense
Connections in the 5 Cs sense stresses connecting to other disciplines. Knowing a FL opens up all sorts of possibilities that are simply unavailable to monolinguals. One’s access to information is exponentially greater the more language(s) one knows and can use. The Connections Standard also underscores a linkage to perspectives unavailable to us here in the U.S. if we do not know another language. If you want to know what people in Uruguay think of event “X” in the U.S., then you need to read about it in El Observador de Montevideo and not in your local newspaper. Giving students access to viewpoints in the TL cultures they are studying can be a real eye-opener and can greatly expand their horizons.
Connecting to products (tangibles), practices (behaviors), and perspectives of the TL culture.
Language learning that excludes a study of the TL culture is simply incomplete. We need to address culture, and we need to make connections whenever possible between our students’ culture and the TL culture. Concentrating on making associations that show similarities, rather than stark differences, helps our students better understand the perspectives behind a TL product or practice. Rather than the “ew, that’s weird” reaction, we are after the “oh, that’s sort of like when we . . . ” response. This also addresses affect as well, which figured prominently above in ways to connect with your students.
We have touched on many different kinds of connections here . . . connections that enrich our professional lives, our knowledge, our foundations of teaching, our relationships with students, and our grounding in the TLs we teach. Making these connections is a vital process we need to engage in on a regular basis in order to optimize our teaching and maximize our students’ learning. These connections, invariably involving language and culture, will facilitate communication in the FL classroom and will move our language learners along their interlanguage continuum to increased TL proficiency.
Britzman, D. (1991). Practice makes practice: A critical study of learning to teach. Albany: State University of New York press.
Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project (NSFLEP). (2006). Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century (3rd ed.). Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc.
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/overview on February 6, 2012.
Escaping from a Cultural Cocoon
Culture is like water for the fish: We are in it and a part of it but we do not see
it…Implicit or subjective culture is invisible, but it is the dimension of culture
that is most likely to affect human interaction. The values, beliefs, attitudes,
behavioral patterns and role relationships that different cultures hold dear are
difficult to detect by members of each culture as well as by those who are alien.
Most Americans who have had the fortune to travel, live, and work in and around the world have, at some point, been faced with the sad fact that we Americans are tongue-tied and continent-bound. That is, the sheer geographic size of our country coupled with the economic hegemony of the US economy has, perhaps, created a lessened sense of national urgency about the teaching of language and culture in our schools. Yet, those of us who have left to live abroad as exchange students or international workers come to understand the power of language as an avenue into the soul of a people and their culture. Then later, as teachers, we come to understand that this is what education is really about: helping students to understand other ways of meeting and seeing human needs.
There is no better vantage point to teach students about the other than from the foreign language classroom. Direct teaching of a new language improves the fluency capabilities of students, but through the vehicle of a language curriculum, we affect what our students come to understand about the world. When we pay express attention to the teaching of culture in the foreign language classroom, we help our students understand that there are many paths to developing a world-view, and that there are unique approaches that each group of people employs to do so.
Increasing competence in another language and culture helps students to look beyond their comfort borders and, as a bonus, to develop insights into their own language and culture. The question is how to bring the target language culture(s) into the language classroom? What is it that American youth want to know and are ready to know about the target culture(s) represented in their world language classroom and how do teachers make that come alive? This means, as a classroom teacher we strive to give all students a feel for other cultural possibilities, other ways of knowing. Margaret Mead said, “ …the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who never left his own doorstep…” Of course, we can’t take all kids beyond the shore, so bringing to them what is beyond the shore is the next best thing.
At the Language Villages, we have the advantage of 24-hour contact with students for an extended period of time. But, many of the cultural components of a Village program are possible to duplicate in the classroom. The best way to do that is to think like a young learner—what interests a 10, 12 or 17-year old?
- Music: is one of the most obvious entrées into another culture. Whether it is pop music, the latest Parisian dance, or traditional folk instruments, students love to have a regular music (and dance) segment in the foreign language curriculum week.
- Food: Not all food units need to involve the time-consuming and tedious work of cooking with students; instead, students can glean valuable culture and communication information from authentic recipes and gain tremendous insight into food diet and tastes. Alternatively, practicing target culture dining customs and rituals with even store-bought American food at a French table set upon desks is an excellent way to enrich learners’ understanding of a new practice.
- Habits: How are students greeted at the classroom door? How do they conduct themselves in the classroom? Is every possible use of target language customs employed? The bow in the Japanese classroom, the appropriate form of address to the teacher in German, the authentic conclusion for the Chinese class? When invoked in the classroom, each of these small habits imbues the students’ conscious or unconscious mind with a perspective other than their own, and helps to open the mind to other ways of being.
- Realia: Filling the classroom with cultural artifacts of the language being studied, those artifacts that represent worldviews and ways of doing, gives learners the feel of the cultures and helps work toward the insider’s perspective. Realia turns the space of a classroom into a place where culture happens.
- Simulations: It may seem too long and involved for a class hour, but a true simulation can be as short and simple as a trip to the train station (fabricated in the classroom), or bartering at the fruit market, or inquiring about a pizza delivery on the classroom phone. The bonus for each of these short and simple simulations is they promote student-to-student language production and can be used as authentic assessments.
In truth, culture is a cocoon and everything that comes into our consciousness is mediated through it. And while a cocoon serves the purpose of making the occupant feel warm and cozy, it also limits the vision. This is an important metaphor for our students to understand. As members of one culture, we tend to make judgments, or at least assumptions, about another through the obscured vision from inside our cocoon—a perspective that stops at the walls that surround us and keep us comfortable. We know what we know, and cannot see past that without an intentional look. This is the power of foreign language instruction—it provides the “look.” Students who have the good fortune to be involved in language learning over an extended period of time and to develop communicative and receptive fluency get more than a look—they get the insider’s perspective.
In its ideal state, foreign language teaching allows students an entrée into a new way of knowing the world and an understanding of how important it is to pull back the cocoon and step outside to take a look around—if even briefly. This will ultimately affect and deepen human interaction and understanding, and in the end, that’s all that counts.
World Language Teacher Shortage and Program Sustainability
Is Teacher Shortage Really the Issue?
Each year the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education issues a nationwide list of specific teacher shortage areas. From 1990 to 2012 Foreign Language has consistently been identified as an area of high need, along with bilingual education, reading specialists, science, mathematics and special education. Numerous state and national efforts have attempted to analyze and address this issue, but perhaps teacher shortage is not the central issue and recruiting more teachers not the only solution.
Important factors are
1) changing trends in language and program popularity
2) pre-service and inservice training of language teachers
3) administrative issues of scheduling and funding, and, most importantly,
4) the emphasis on learning vs teaching.
5) equal access to language learning.
The playing field constantly changes and the teaching profession responds by playing a no-win game of catch-up to meet the ever-shifting demand. Example of this are:
• the high demand for Spanish teachers in the 80's and 90's
• the urgent need for Chinese and Arabic teachers following the National Security Language Initiative report
• the lack of teachers of a specific language in a particular geographical area
• the shortage of urban and rural language teachers
• the demand for elementary school vs. high school language teachers
• the recent demands for immersion teachers in certain states and districts
Local districts and states have diffused many crises with stop gap measures, such as:
-- hiring foreign nationals to teach world languages through various ministries of education,
educational organizations and for profit companies
-- tapping heritage and business communities for native speakers, and
-- creating alternative routes toward certification,
while at the same time, taking years to build capacity to meet the need before it changes once, again.
Training of Language Teachers
An upgrade of teacher preparation programs is long overdue. Far too prevalent are programs designed to replicate teaching and learning principles from 50 years ago. Too often teachers enter the profession without the high levels of language proficiency required to prepare students for jobs in international business, diplomacy, military intelligence, healthcare, law enforcement, to mention a few areas of employment.
Too long the focus of language teacher training programs has been at the secondary level where graduation requirements are minimal or non-existent. There are too few programs for elementary language teachers, particularly for immersion programs. More often than not, middle and high schools are ill prepared to offer immersion graduates the courses they need to continue their language journeys.
The issue is not a shortage of teachers but rather the changing needs for teachers in the field and/or for alternative delivery methods of instruction to promote language learning.
Funding and Scheduling
School administrators and local and state boards of education often use teacher shortage as an argument against instituting new world language programs and/or graduation requirements, while funding may be at the root of their concern. And, with many districts laying off large numbers of teachers, one might ask, "what teacher shortage?" All indications are that the budget cuts at federal and state levels are unlikely to turn around any time soon. Grants for language programs are likely to be fewer and highly competitive, and even then, sustainability will remain the fiscal responsibility of the local districts. The funding issue is also why some ill-informed decision-makers are turning to software programs as the sole medium of instruction.
Learning vs Teaching
Given the changing nature of political and economic influences on educational trends and the increasing demand for language learning beginning in elementary school and reaching high levels of proficiency, we will never have a sufficient number of qualified teachers to meet the need in the traditional school system as we know it. So the question becomes, not how do we solve the teacher shortage, but rather, how do we meet the learning needs of students--a very different matter altogether.
Many states are already refocusing the attention on credit for proficiency instead of seat time, and a few are allowing, if not encouraging, learning to take place any time and anywhere. More and more, students are being provided with oportunities to become autonomous learners, setting their own goals and demonstrating their progress against benchmarks. Technology, too, plays a supportive role by providing equitable opportunities for blended instruction, as well as for personal, self-directed learning and language practice in authentic contexts.
All of this suggests an emerging role for teachers (as well as students) as versatile learning coaches and facilitators, who focus on the individual needs of their learners rather than follow the program model. Also suggested is an evolving system of education that self-examines and identifies its limitation and barriers to learning. The shortage is perhaps, not one of teachers, but of vision to imagine how learning can occur, progress, and be documented beyond the traditional school model.
The question is how can we provide all learners with equitable access to learning the languages of their choice for whatever purposes are meaningful to them? Equitable access to language learning should not depend on where learners live, what their districts can afford, or what decisions administrators make. The market needs to shift to meet their needs, not the needs of the education establishment. We can no longer limit ourselves to what the current system imposes.
The Power of Observations: What you can learn from watching others
In a K-12 educational setting, formative and summative observations are announced or unannounced visits by on-site administrators, and these are admittedly only snapshots of the learning and teaching process. Teachers take administrative feedback very seriously because it generally has a bearing on their evaluations. Actually some teachers may become frustrated with the feedback from observers who are not versed in the goals and objectives of world languages. However, teachers may be more willing to accept feedback in general if they have participated in collegial or peer observations. They then are able to recall their roles as observers and know that meaningful feedback and discussion can emanate from classroom visits. Collegial or peer observations can be the impetus for improving the learning and teaching process already in place as well as a vehicle for validation of a job well done.
Admittedly, making the arrangements for collegial observations can be challenging. Nevertheless, teachers can set the tone for beneficial outcomes when they approach their administrators with a plan for successful collegial observations. Following are possible objectives for a plan that includes a spiraling process of pre-dialogues, multiple and sequential visits to the classroom, and post-dialogues:
- Improve teaching and learning.
- Identify elements of a balanced assessment system.
- Focus on the needs of all students.
- Provide feedback on the learning and teaching process.
- Determine how to integrate technology in a way that supports language use in context.
- Reflect on the relationship between effective classroom procedures and successful learning experiences.
Collegial observation teams may consider the following suggestions:
- Have pre- and post-dialogues where both participants can express their own visions of successes and concerns.
- Work on issues of trust and invoke the need for confidentiality when needed.
- Plan for multiple and sequential observations to see how the learning process spirals and moves forward.
- Provide a learning plan that has objectives that are specific, measurable, observable, realistic, and attainable.
- Ensure that instructional procedures will assist students to meet their daily objectives.
- Focus on the issues discussed during the pre-dialogues, e.g., classroom management, introduction of new information, use of higher order thinking, etc.
- Consider using a flip camera from time to time.
- Reflect on the observation experience as colleagues and not as evaluators.
- Avoid using words such as “should,” need to,” and “ought to.”
- Commit to having uninterrupted pre- and post-dialogues that occur in a timely manner.
Using the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century as a guide for meaningful language use, one acknowledges that students need to develop a proficiency in the languages that they are studying commensurate with the amount of time that they spend on task. It is not difficult to extrapolate from this reality that the classroom scenario should be performance-based and proficiency-oriented. Therefore, the collegial observation team may want to ensure that
- the assessments have been developed for the unit before teaching and learning proceeds.
- the assessments align with goals and objectives that are proficiency-oriented.
- a balanced assessment system includes performance-based assessments for unrehearsed speaking and writing.
Assessments that are developed before instruction begins offer insight for the teacher to select appropriate strategies and activities.
During the instructional time, the observer may want to determine if students are required only to use low-level thinking skills. There are certain student behaviors in this kind of learning environment. Students
- Memorize the vocabulary using English to check understanding.
- Depend on translation to check understanding
- Use the text, workbook, and/or handouts to practice vocabulary and grammar.
- Complete written work without much oral practice.
- Learn about the grammar of the target language in place of using the grammar in context.
- Respond orally mostly at the word or phrase level.
- Respond at the sentence level if information is memorized, read, or previously stated.
- Respond only to teacher-made questions in the target language.
- Ask questions if they can read them or use the ones that the teacher develops.
- Fill in text/workbook exercises and handouts rather than practicing and applying the target language first orally for meaningful purposes.
On the other hand, the observer may want to determine if students are required to use all levels of thinking skills. There are certain student behaviors in this kind of learning environment. Students
- Use familiar information in context with higher order thinking skills orally and in writing.
- Re-enter familiar information orally that connects to new vocabulary or new grammatical structures.
- Pronounce new vocabulary in a variety of ways (antonyms, synonyms, definitions, analogies, etc.) until it becomes routine and familiar to them.
- Identify the meaning of new vocabulary and use of new grammatical structures orally in the context of visuals and inductive teaching techniques to avoid translation.
- Practice and apply new vocabulary and new grammatical structures orally in many ways before reinforcing them with writing.
Form simple sentences orally with new and familiar information.
- Form longer sentences orally with new and familiar information. (Incorporating answers to selected question words help to make sentences longer.)
- Create and ask yes/no questions orally with new and familiar information.
- Respond orally to yes/no questions developed by peers.
- Create and ask peers questions orally that require question words.
- Respond orally with complete sentences to questions developed by peers that require question words.
- Combine sentences orally and in writing for a variety of reasons.
- Ask and answer questions in unrehearsed conversations.
- Read for specific purposes, i.e., define new vocabulary using familiar information, paraphrase sections, sequence the reading, predict a new ending, etc.
- Write for specific purposes, i.e., provide pre-writing, writing, and post-writing strategies.
There is a wealth of learning for both participants of the collegial observation team as they both share the roles of observer and teacher. Additionally, there is room for self assessment and reflection, but the power of observations rests truly with the collegial observation team and their professionalism and willingness to share.
National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project. (1999). Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press.
The Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy …
and Standards for Foreign Language Learning
The Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century have been used as a roadmap for language policy makers, teachers, and program directors. They have been adapted at the state and local level to improve foreign language learning. CERCLL acknowledges the importance of the standards as a guide for best practices for language teachers and students. I will use the five components of the standards here as a framework to present some of CERCLL’s current projects. Those project descriptions will demonstrate that CERCLL’s mission and activities are very much in line with and supportive of the goals set by the standards.
The Standards for Foreign Language Learning have been described within five goal areas: (1) communication, (2) cultures, (3) connections, (4) comparisons, and (5) communities. They are being been described by ACTFL as follows:
COMMUNICATION (Communicate in Languages Other Than English)
CULTURES (Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures)
CONNECTIONS (Connect with Other Disciplines and Acquire Information)
COMPARISONS (Develop Insight into the Nature of Language and Culture)
COMMUNITIES (Participate in Multilingual Communities at Home and Around the World)
More information on the standards for foreign language learning can be found at: http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3324
CERCLL is devoted to research, innovative pedagogies, and material development to enhance communication skills, especially in the less commonly taught languages. Two current CERCLL projects focus on the creation / application of innovative and immersive learning environments that foster communication and interaction. In the project “Global Simulation for Business: Educating Global Entrepreneurs for Global Trade”, directed by Beatrice Dupuy, simulated, real-life learning environments are being created for the learning and use of foreign languages in the international business context. In these simulated environments, students of Chinese, Portuguese, and Russian will be able to use and advance their language skills through task-based and project-based learning.
The project, “Games to Teach: Developing Digital Game-Mediated Foreign Language Literacies”, directed by Jonathon Reinhardt and Julie Sykes, has as its objective the utilization of digital games as stimulating and effective learning environments. Through this project, CERCLL will provide language educators the resources needed to design, implement, and assess digital game-mediated learning activities for foreign language and culture learning.
In a third project, “Modern Persian Textbook Series: Advanced” project director, Kamran Talattof, is authoring two volumes of a much needed Persian textbook series for college students or independent learners. The textbooks will teach both spoken and written formats, and will provide students with information about aspects of Iranian culture.
Gaining knowledge and understanding of other cultures is an important part of CERCLL’s mission. Several projects are focusing on the study and teaching of cultural awareness. The project “Hypermedia Texts: Using Multimodal Text Annotations to Promote Cultural Literacy”, directed by Chantelle Warner, involves the creation of culturally annotated hypermedia texts in Arabic, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Turkish. The project collaborators develop pedagogical materials to accompany these texts for the teaching of language as culture through literary texts.
In “Bringing Global Cultures and World Languages into K-8 Classrooms”, project director, Kathy Short, and colleagues intend to make K-8 teachers more confident and comfortable with integrating cultural and linguistic perspectives into their classrooms and familiarize them with instructional strategies and electronic resources. By bringing an International Consultant and a Language and Culture Kit into K-8 schools, they introduce K-8 students to less commonly taught languages and cultures in order to encourage them to study these languages in high school and university context. Kits in Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish will be added to already existing kits in Arabic and Korean.
The project “Study Abroad: The Assessment of Cultural Intelligence”, directed by Peter Ecke, addresses the need for ready-to use, easily adaptable instruments to teach and assess students’ development of cultural intelligence during study abroad in Russia and Germany. The materials that are being developed include questionnaires, learner portfolios, and simulation games through which learners analyze and resolve critical incidents that can occur during study abroad. A model will be developed for the teaching and assessment of cultural knowledge and skills in other less commonly taught languages.
While the development of communication and cultural skills is at the core of most CERCLL projects, several projects also connect with other disciplines. In “Legal Registers for Interpretation: Training Materials and Resources for Heritage Language Speakers”, project director, Roseann González, addresses the need for accurate and adequate language services in the legal system. The project will provide valuable training for interpreters of Russian who do not have the opportunity or financial means to develop their linguistic and interpreting skills in high-stakes legal settings. The project builds on successful intensive interpreter training programs in English and Spanish, Navajo, Haitian Creole, and ASL. It will also provide a model for developing interpreter services for other heritage languages.
The aforementioned project, “Global simulation for business”, addresses communication and culture skills, but specifically those needed by professionals in international business and trade.
Developing insight into the nature of language and culture is an important component of several projects: All projects listed under the culture and communication areas attempt to provide insight by comparing, i.e. detecting and analyzing similarities and differences between languages and cultures.
Part of CERCLL’s mission is it to participate in and assist multilingual communities at home and around the world. Through the project “K-16 Initiatives: Professional Development for Foreign Language Educators”, directed by Linda Waugh, CERCLL is providing professional development opportunities for language teachers and program administrators. The initiative responds to the needs of schools that increasingly offer less commonly taught languages and the needs of K-16 educators, as identified through the CERCLL practitioner needs survey. CERCLL offers (1) workshops at the University of Arizona, (2) in-service workshops at local and regional schools, and (3) a summer series of workshops and institutes. A list of CERCLL’s upcoming summer workshops can be found here: http://cercll.arizona.edu/doku.php/development
The project “PErCOLATE: Topic-based Modules for Preparing the Future FL Professoriate to Teach with a Multiliteracies Approach across the Undergraduate FL Curriculum”, directed by Heather Allen and Beatrice Dupuy, addresses shortcomings in the training of foreign language teaching assistants (TAs). The objective is to create a set of modules for professional development of TAs in several languages by developing flexible materials and activities that focus on language teaching at higher levels and provide an alternative structure for professional development in programs where there is either a Language Program Director (LPD) with no applied linguistics background or no LPD at all (the norm in most less commonly taught language programs).
A highlight in CERCLL’s attempts to build and strengthen communities is going to be the Second International Conference on Intercultural Communication to be held in Tucson, AZ, January 26-29, 2012. The first conference held in January, 2010, was a full success, and it is expected that the next one will be as exciting as the first. The call for papers for this conference can be found here: http://cercll.arizona.edu/doku.php/development/conferences/icc.
The five goal areas described in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities, are without doubt part of CERCLL’s mission and projects. CERCLL is working hard to contribute to higher standards of language and culture learning in this country.
More information about CERCLL’s ongoing projects and products of past projects can be found at: http://cercll.arizona.edu/doku.php/projects/materials
Millennials Prove Themselves to the World
Millennials are the most diverse and tolerant generation in American history. Able to connect with peers around the world instantly, they are the first “post-national” generation. That teenager secretly texting the girl next to her in class can just as easily text a teenager in Shanghai, provided she can write Chinese. This generation should be the best language learners in history. Yet, the decline in traditional programs, especially at the elementary level, creates a situation where the demand for language learning far outstrips the supply. The commercial success of self-study programs such as Rosetta Stone and LiveMocha is a testament of the failure to meet this demand. At the Ccenter for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS), we consider this failure to be an opportunity to provide Millennials and others with effective, personalized language learning opportunities.
First, we have to consider who these Millennials are. These characteristics, drawn from various lines of research, are of course broad generalizations that do not apply to all individuals born between 1982 and 2001, the common definition of the Millennial generation. Nonetheless, they are useful in considering the pedagogic issues arising from Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers teaching children who have grown up with a very different relationship to technology and each other.
- Achievers: Millennials’ “helicopter parents” are driven to make sure their children are special, and kids got the memo: You need to distinguish yourself through high achievement and have a life plan. Boomers were proud to announce that they would hitchhike around Europe until the money ran out and then figure out what to do. Not Millennials who are thinking about grad school before finishing high school.
- Rule followers: Unlike the rebellious Boomers and the cynical Gen-Xers, Millennials are rule followers who trust structure and institutions.
- Tech-savvy: These “digital natives” have never known a world without Internet access and cell phones. In fact, 83% report having slept with their cell phones, demonstrating the ubiquity of communications technology in their lives and the desire to be constantly connected to peers.
- Peer-oriented: Millennials are tightly tied to peer groups both through technology and traditional face-to-face groups, such as organized soccer teams, school clubs, and multiplayer online games.
- Exhibitionist: Millennials self-promote. Posting sexy photos or bragging about accomplishments on Facebook is not considered bad form. The 40% with tattoos and 25% with piercings all but scream “Look at me!”
What would a “Millennial pedagogy” look like?
First, it must appeal to Millennial’s sense that they are “special” as well as their intense desire for peer-group connections. A Millennial pedagogy would provide structure and rules. It would worry less about punishing students for slacking (Gen-Xers) or flaunting the rules (Boomers) and more about rewarding them for accomplishments. And it would give them ample opportunity to show off.
Working with partners around the country, CASLS has adopted a Millennial-friendly approach called “Can-Do Learning” and is developing tools to help facilitate that approach. The basic tenets of Can-Do Learning are:
- Learners set their own goals in terms of what they can do.
- Learning experiences, inside or outside of class, are designed to help them pursue those goals.
- Learners track their own progress toward goals through self-, peer- and teacher-assessments.
- Learners choose evidence to substantiate claims of what they can do.
CASLS has developed a tool to facilitate the Can-Do Learning approach called LinguaFolio Online. Developed in partnership with the National Council of State Supervisors For Languages (NCSSFL) and the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), this online tool allows learners to identify goals in terms of CanDo statements such as “I can give and ask for directions” at lower levels and “I can state and defend an opinion” at higher levels. Each of these main CanDo statements can be broken into sub-CanDo statements and, more importantly, customizable CanDo statements.
In this example, a student chose to enter “I can give directions from my house to the mall.” Learners can define their own goals within a standard framework. Learners also can attach evidence to each of these statements in the form of videos, audio files, text, or images.
Once the evidence is uploaded, learners can keep it private (default) or choose to share with peers or teachers. In the picture below, the text evidence is kept private (single person icon) and the MP3 file is available for review (three person icon).
Concerns about Can-Do Learning from Boomer and Gen-Xer teachers illustrate a significant gap in the mind sets between them and their Millennial students.
Concern #1: Self- and peer-assessment is meaningless. Kids will cheat.
Boomers grew up challenging rules of the establishment, and Gen-Xers learned to manipulate the system to get what they wanted. With this mentality, self-assessment is indeed problematic. But Millennials are rule followers. In fact, initial evidence from STARTALK summer institutes indicates that learners’ estimates of their ability are often lower than that of their teachers.
Concern #2: Kids won’t do this.
Most of us who began using social networks as adults are reticent about posting anything on Facebook more intimate than a family photo. Those who grew up posting tuneless renditions of pop songs on YouTube, compromising photos on Facebook, and texting salacious pictures get a social reward for “being seen” that older Americans do not. If giving a speech in Japanese, singing an Argentine pop song, or doing a skit in Arabic prompts your friends to hit the “like” button, students are likely to do it.
Concern #3: It’s too complicated.
A recent LinguaFolio teacher training workshop, filled with Boomers and Xers, was a nightmare. It took two hours just to get everyone logged in properly. At a later session with Millennial students, however, halfway through the explanation of how to get access, kids were already starting to check off Can-Do statements and upload evidence. Technology is not a barrier for digital natives.
Of course, not all Millennials are team-oriented achievers who want to see themselves on YouTube any more than all baby boomers were radical hippies or all Gen-Xers were hopeless slackers. The general trend towards technology-mediated peer groups and a focus on achievement within a well-defined structure, however, suggests the Can-Do Learning approach may fit well within the Millennial mindset.
For more information, visit http://casls.uoregon.edu/lfo.php
Back to Top
Teaching in the Target Language
Associate Professor, Emerita
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
As we focus on learners and what they need from their teachers during language classes, one of the most important elements is their need to access the new language through the language itself and not through English. Janice Erickson, ACTFL past president, compared using English to teach another language like teaching kids how to swim without water. We know from research in second-language acquisition that learners need to be surrounded with input that is meaningful and interesting in order to acquire a new language.
How Much Target Language Use is Appropriate?
We must provide this kind of input consistently, from the very beginning and for every class period. Many teachers speak exclusively in the target language; others recommend use of the new language 95 to 100 percent of the time. ACTFL in its position statement on this topic (http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=4368 - targetlang) recommends that the target language be used a minimum of 90% of the time. It is especially important that the teacher use the new language for regular classroom tasks, such as giving directions and managing behavior because this demonstrates to the students that the new language is useful and works for all the business of the classroom.
Teacher as Culture Bearer
Language is the key to the culture. Even though not all teachers are native speakers, all teachers serve as culture bearers--the representatives of the culture in the classroom. When students have the feeling of being surrounded by the language, they also have the feeling of what it might be like to actually be in a place where this language is spoken. If we spend much of classroom time in English, we are actually denying students access to the language and the culture.
Why Do Some Teachers Resist Using the Target Language?
Since using the target language is such a vital part of actually learning the language, why do some teachers resist using the language and use English? Some thoughts on possibly explaining this are:
- They worry that the learners won’t understand and won’t know what to do.
- They worry that they themselves sometimes do not know enough of the language to be able to be effective users.
- They worry that the language is too difficult and that they must explain it in English.
- They worry about losing control of the class if they speak the target language.
- They may have inherited a class whose previous teacher spoke mostly in English.
What is the Role of English?
Under some circumstances it may be necessary to use English. There may be an emergency in which the welfare of the students is at stake or there may be emotional upsets in which individual students need a private conversation in English. There may be extremely important concepts in a teachable moment that absolutely may not be communicated in the target language.
The use of English should be intentional and be a conscious decision, not just something the teacher slides into without thinking. The following series of questions can be helpful in deciding when and if using English instead of the target language is appropriate.
Shall I Use English for a lesson segment?
- Can I find a way to communicate the new idea in the new language with visuals, gestures?
- Can I simplify?
- Can I substitute a different concept?
- Can I delay this topic until we can deal with it in the target language?
- Could this be part of the lessons I leave for a substitute teacher?
- Could this be a homework assignment using English language resources?
- Is an English explanation essential to further progress toward my goals for this lesson?
Shall I Use English to clarify vocabulary?
- Have I already tried using visuals, gestures, or other strategies to get the meaning across?
- Will failing to understand this vocabulary item interfere with the progress of the lesson?
Of course, if after all these deliberations, the teacher finally makes the decision to use English for a specified purpose, it is still important to stay within the guidelines of target language use 90 to 95 to 100 percent of the time.
How Do We Keep the Classroom in the Target Language?
Use the Target Language Consistently.
Make the Language Comprehensible
- Use simple, direct language and choose vocabulary and structures that incorporate a large amount of material that is familiar to the learners.
- Break down directions and new information into small, incremental steps.
- Use concrete materials, visuals, gestures, facial expressions, and movement.
- Model every step of the process or the directions being presented.
Monitor and Assess Target Language Use.
- Keep track of student language use
- Make sure that oral language use is part of student assessment
- Make target language use a part of the classroom management system and an integral part of the classroom culture. Possibly use a reinforcement system to reward students for a short period of time to get them in the habit of using the language.
Check for Comprehension
- Students can use signals to indicate their response to a comprehension check. They can hold their thumbs up or down for “yes” and “no,” and wiggle their thumbs for “I’m not sure.”
- They can draw pictures to signal their comprehension or write on small whiteboards. Students can act out the behavior or imitate the performance that the teacher has demonstrated.
Separate the Native Language from the Target Language—Avoid Translation as a First Resort
- If the students know that the teacher is going to use both languages, they will not engage with the target language and will patiently wait for the English.
- If the teacher plans to repeat or clarify in English, he or she may not expend as much effort to make the target language comprehensible.
- Sometimes students who have understood directions or new vocabulary may call out the English, either as a way to help their classmates or to show the teacher that they have understood. It is important not to encourage or reinforce this practice because if it becomes a habit, the language lesson can turn into a translation game.
Separate the Native Language from the Target Language—Use a Sign
- Using a sign on which one side indicates English and the other side indicates the target language reminds teachers and students to stay in the target language.
- The sign can help the teacher make a transition to using the target language more frequently by keeping the teacher and the students focused on using the language for longer periods of time each day.
- Of course, beginning students cannot always conduct themselves entirely in the new language. Teachers can respond in the target language by rephrasing what students said in the target language and then responding in the target language.
The central task for the language teacher is to create a communicative climate focused on meaning, within which language acquisition can take place naturally. The key to creating this climate is using the target language! When learners are surrounded with their new language 90 to 95 to 100 percent of the class time, and when teachers use the language for all classroom purposes, language use has a purpose and there is motivation to learn.
Download printable version (PDF).
Back to Top