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.