Our schools are trying to keep up with the increasing demand for multilingualism. Image: iStockPhoto.
English is a commercial lingua franca in many parts of
the world, but English alone is no longer sufficient for
global professionals who must compete and collaborate
in a global economic environment. The need for
Americans who can communicate in a second language
and operate within another cultural frame of reference
is evident in a range of fields including science, agriculture,
law enforcement, health care, business, and engineering. National security concerns have also prompted
an increased focus on the need for proficient speakers of
a wider range of world languages than American schools
have traditionally off ered. Finally, learning another language
is increasingly recognized as an important vehicle
for learning about other cultures and enhancing crosscultural
communication, an increasingly valued skill.
Many states have realized the increasing importance
of language learning and have revised their graduation
requirements to expand world language expectations.
A number of states have gone beyond this to assess their statewide language needs and to develop
roadmaps for building their citizens' language capacity. Bringing K-12
and higher education together to produce highly proficient graduates, drawing on heritage communities to expand
the supply of language teachers, changing teacher
certification, starting languages in elementary schools,
and using technology to reach underserved classrooms
are important emerging strategies.
Some promising practices and trends:
- There has been a 200% increase in the number
of schools teaching Chinese between 2005 and
2008. Chinese language programs are now offered
in 44 states with sizeable numbers of programs
in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois,
Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oklahoma, and Virginia.
- Maryland recently established the Task Force on the
Preservation of Heritage Language Skills in Maryland,
which includes government, business, community,
and education officials. The task force will compile
data and recommend actions and programs to
advance and preserve heritage languages. The June
2008 Maryland Middle School Task Force Report,
The Critical Middle: A Reason for Hope, recommends
sequential world language classes for all Maryland
students beginning in grade six.
- Minnesota passed legislation to develop Chinese language programs. A taskforce of more
than 100 business leaders, Chinese language experts, and
education specialists came together to develop and provide school districts with common curriculum,
materials, and classroom assessments. In 2008, the legislature appropriated $500,000
in grant money for five K-12 world language program
startups or expansions.
- New Jersey has partnered with Rutgers University to
increase the number of Chinese language
teachers. The program allows native Chinese speakers to test out of Chinese language
courses and to focus on receiving strong pedagogy training.
- The New York State Education Department organized
an emerging and critical need languages symposium
in New York City focusing on the teaching
and learning of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
and Russian. The symposium will produce an action
plan for future initiatives, including an increase in
all language programs statewide.
- A partnership between the Ohio State Department
of Education and The Ohio State University created
an Ohio Language Summit. The resulting
publication, Ohio Languages Roadmap for the
21st Century, presents a vision for the development
of a multilingual workforce through opportunities
for language learning combined with job-related
technical and academic skills. The State Legislature
also created a Foreign Language Advisory Council,
which, in December 2007, released a foreign
language plan for students enrolled in pre-school
through university. Passport to the Future: Ohio’s
Plan for World Languages contains recommendations
for the future of language instruction in the
state. Work is also continuing on a federal Foreign
Language Assistance Program grant to Ohio to pilot
a new K-4 curriculum in Chinese.
- Utah and Oregon are two states where K-12 and
higher education are working together with the goal
of producing highly proficient graduates who can
function in a professional context in another language.
Utah has introduced legislation to expand
language programs in Chinese and Arabic, including
online components, and is developing a state
roadmap for world languages. Oregon initiated the
nation’s first K-16 Foreign Languages Flagship initiative,
supported by the U.S. Department of Defense.
- Members of the Washington International
Education Coalition collaborated with the Office of
Superintendent of Public Instruction to carry out a
statewide World Languages Survey. That survey has
now expanded into the “Mapping and Enhancing Language Learning” project at the University of
Washington, which is continuing to research and
map the distribution of languages taught in K-12
schools across the state.
- The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction developed
model academic standards for world languages
in 1998 and published its Planning Curriculum for
Learning World Languages in 2002. The Department
is engaged in multiple efforts to promote proficiency
in languages including plans to expand elementary
language programs, heritage language credit projects,
and support for tribal language programming.
A Federal Language Program Assistance grant is
supporting the development of Chinese and Arabic
language programs through pre-service teacher education
and district program development.
- In January 2008, the West Virginia State Board
of Education approved the 21st Century World
Languages Strategic Plan that outlines specific strategies
and objectives designed to enhance world language
education throughout the state. Specific areas
for focus include targeting younger learners; exploring
technology for delivery of instruction; and documenting
proficiency through appropriate assessment.
- The Wyoming legislature passed a law requiring
that every child in grades K-8 have the opportunity
to learn another language. It then appropriated $5
million in 2004 to fund the development of a K-6
language program to be piloted in fi fty Wyoming
elementary schools for five years.