Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Educational Change/Foreign Languages
|“||A nation, like a person, has a mind…that must be kept informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and needs of its neighbors-all the other nations that live within the narrowing circle of the world.||”|
—Franklin Roosevelt, 
“I had two years of German in High School, but I don’t remember any of it”. This is one of the statements I hear often from people, after I tell them that I teach German. Growing up in Germany, it was common for people to speak fluently at least one other language. The motivation to learn another language is mainly the close proximity to other European countries and the cultural influence through immigrants from all over the world. Foremost, foreign languages are taught already in elementary school. American schools encounter many constraints when it comes to maintaining an effective foreign language program. The motivation for instituting foreign language programs and learning a variety of languages are influenced by events throughout history, mainly World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq wars, and the terrorism attack of 9/11. In addition, the US government has set goals to improve global competitiveness in the world's markets by improving our foreign language education in the United States and our national security, especially after 9/11.
Shrum and Glisan point out that in recent years foreign language education has made significant changes especially for "language teachers in terms of standards for teacher candidates, beginning teachers, and more accomplished teachers. An interest in standards in the academic disciplines was sparked by an initiative of the George H. W. Bush administration and was continued under the Goals 2000 initiative of the Clinton Administration. Visionary Goals 2000 (1994) described the competence that all students should demonstrate in challenging subject matter….including foreign languages. With its inclusion in Goals 2000 foreign language was recognized as part of the K-12 core curriculum in the United States” which eventually resulted in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century." (Shrum and Glisan, 44)
Setting National Goals
The NSLI has three broad goals:
According to these goals set by President Bush, the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) will dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical need foreign languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, and others through new and expanded programs from kindergarten through university and into the workforce. An essential component of U.S. national security in the post-9/11 world is the ability to engage foreign governments and peoples, especially in critical regions, to encourage reform, promote understanding, convey respect for other cultures and provide an opportunity to learn more about our country and its citizens. To do this, we must be able to communicate in other languages, a challenge for which we are unprepared. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, to the extent that foreign language learning improves a student’s cognitive and academic performance, it goes hand in glove with the No Child Left Behind goal of ensuring high student outcomes for all children… Foreign language should not be seen as an “add-on” but rather, foreign languages should be integrated into the curriculum. 
Many studies confirm the benefits and effects of learning foreign languages, specifically on learning them early in the child’s development.
Learning a second language at an early age...
|More on Language Instruction Models at Language immersion|
Selected Virginia schools offer a variety of foreign language programs which are based on the most recent foreign language teaching methods. For example, the Stafford County School Division offers two types of elementary school foreign language instruction.
FLEX (Foreign Language Exploratory) program. Every elementary school offers an after-school language program. While the majority of schools offer Spanish, some schools also offer French, German, Japanese or American Sign Language.
FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School--Sequential study). 
Partial immersion program: a means of acquiring a foreign language through content matter instruction. The uniqueness of an immersion program is that the foreign language is not taught as a subject. In Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), students learn mathematics, science, and health through the medium of a foreign language (French, German, Japanese or Spanish). Half the school day is spent learning in the foreign language.
Two-way immersion programs integrate language minority and language majority students, providing instruction in both English and the native language of the language minority students. 
A Long Way to Go
Are we there yet?
No. Although foreign language instruction has made great strides in offering different models of instruction and approved assessment, we still need to develop higher proficiency goals to offer better teacher training, to improve K-12 articulation, and to offer more of a variety of languages. 
The U.S. lacks the language resources (in languages other than English) to meet its various goals and many members of our society do not experience the benefits that proficiency in multiple languages and cultures can bring. Students enter U.S. schools with native-like proficiency in a language other than English (their heritage language) and are not encouraged to develop high levels of proficiency in their native language while also mastering English. 
Lack of variety of Languages and Exposure
More than 200 million children in China are studying English, a compulsory subject for all Chinese primary school students. By comparison, only about 24,000 of approximately 54 million elementary and secondary school children in the United States are studying Chinese. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, only 44% of American high school students are enrolled in foreign language classes... Of those students, 69% are enrolled in Spanish and 18% in French. Less than 1% of American high school students combined study Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urdu. Less than 8% of United States undergraduates take foreign language courses, and less than 2% study abroad in any given year. Foreign language degrees account for only 1% of undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States. 
Reagan and Osborn point out that it is somewhat puzzling to imagine a language being taught by someone who does not speak it well-and yet in all too many cases, that is in fact the case. "Clearly one must know a subject in order to teach it effectively. In the context of foreign language education, this means that the foreign language teacher should have achieved a high degree of competence in the target language."(Reagan and Osborn, 19)
What can be done?
According to the Center of Applied Linguistics, the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in foreign language instruction and speaking abilities. What can the U.S. learn from other countries?
Start language education early.
The United States needs a national commitment to elementary school language teaching for all children... In particular, we need to look to countries like ours that have a single official or national language but that are nonetheless succeeding in developing citizens with bilingual or multilingual proficiency.
Conduct long-term research.
The U.S. education system can benefit greatly from the development of a long-term research agenda that incorporates longitudinal studies of a variety of early language learning models of instruction.
Provide stronger leadership.
A stronger and more coherent government-wide effort is needed to create the atmosphere and opportunity to improve language education in the United States.
Identify how technology can improve language instruction.
We need specific research on how technology can best be used to increase students' proficiency in other languages.
Improve teacher education.
The United States needs to conduct a more in-depth investigation into how some countries are recruiting high-caliber students into teaching and providing top quality in-service and pre-service training. Develop appropriate language assessments. The effective assessment practices used in other countries are worth studying given the salience of assessment in U. S. education.
Designate foreign language as a core subject.
In districts and schools in the United States where foreign language study is part of the core curriculum, there is a more rigorous approach to curriculum development, professional development, and assessment. Designating foreign language study as a core subject is essential for a successful program.
Take advantage of the sociolinguistic context.'
American educators need to take advantage of the sociolinguistic context in which we live by promoting the learning of languages spoken by indigenous groups and by immigrants and refugees in this country, as well as by our neighbors in Canada and Mexico. 
According to the Center of Applied Linguistics, compared to students in much of the world, U.S. students lag far behind in their foreign language capabilities….The United States can learn a great deal by studying these successes and using the information to implement practices and policies that will support the development of better foreign language education and a higher level of foreign language proficiency among our citizens.
Deficits in foreign language learning and teaching negatively affect our national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence communities and cultural understanding. It prevents us from effectively communicating in foreign media environments, hurts counter-terrorism efforts, and hamstrings our capacity to work with people and governments in post-conflict zones and to promote mutual understanding. Our business competitiveness is hampered in making effective contacts and adding new markets overseas. Fact Sheet Office of the Spokesman, Washington, DC, January 5, 2006 National Security Language Initiative
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- Promotional Brochure. Retrieved from http://iew.state.gov/promotional.htm
- Shrum, Judith L. and Glisan, Eileen W. (3rd edition). Teacher's Handbook. Boston: Thomson and Heinle.
- Reagan, Timothy G. and Osborn Terry A.(2004). The Foreign Language Educator in Society. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Malone, Margaret E. "Attaining High Levels of Proficiency: Challenges for Foreign Language Education in the United States." Center for Applied Linguistics Digest 2005. http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/attain.html
- Rose, Magaret. FOREIGN LANGUAGE IN THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS STAFFORD COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Virginia http://www.pen.k12.va.us/Div/Stafford/Instruction/ForeignLanguage/shoesbrochure.html
- Griggs,Yvonne. 1/18/2006. Fairfax County Public Schools. Virginia. Languages in the Schools. http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/OHSICS/forlang/partial.htm
- Christian, Donna; Johnson, Dora; Rhodes, Nancy. Interagency Language Roundtable Meeting. Feb/24/2006 http://www.govtilr.org/ILRPPTFinal2%5b1%5d.23.06_files/frame.htm
- Colby, Chad. "Teaching Language for National Security and Global Competitiveness: U.S. Department of Education Fact Sheet." 5/Feb/2006 http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2006/01/01052006.html
- Pufahl, Ingrid; Rhodes,Nancy C.; Christian,Donna. "What We Can Learn From Foreign Language Teaching In Other Countries?" Center for Applied Linguistics Digest 10/2001. http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0106pufahl.html