Education Letter to the Editor

Change Now Under Way in Language Programs

January 29, 2013 1 min read

To the Editor:

U.S. students absolutely need a strong language education they can use to be active citizens in our global community. Thanks to David Young and J.B. Buxton (“Language Education We Can Use,” Commentary, Jan. 9, 2013) for their message that language learning must emphasize real-life relevance and authentic connections to language and culture.

I completely agree that talking about language and grammar does not develop critical second-language proficiency. I also stand 100 percent behind the many dual-language-immersion programs that are powerful models for developing strong language proficiency.

But language learning is on a path of growth and change. Most world-language teachers are unified around a strong set of national standards (which are also the same standards of most states) that focus on developing skills of meaningful communication by preparing language-learners to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate what they read, hear, or view, as well as to exchange opinions, express ideas, and persuade others via speaking and writing.

These are real-life applications students will need to use in other languages to collaborate in our world.

As a veteran teacher of French, I have witnessed many changes throughout my career. The way I teach and the way students learn now is totally different from when I started. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many world-language teachers who design meaningful learning experiences around language use in real-world culturally embedded contexts.

Skyping to other countries, interacting with native-speaker mentors in the community, volunteering abroad, or teaching computer skills to senior citizens in their language are just some ways students are expanding their language learning anytime, anyplace.

Change is happening—although not yet transforming all language programs in the United States—but we need to build capacity for this change. Parents, educators, and administrators have the will; they need support for the “how to.”

Toni Theisen

French Teacher

Loveland High School

Loveland, Colo.

The writer is the president of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for 2013.

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as Change Now Under Way in Language Programs