ERIC Identifier: ED383227
Publication Date: 1995-06-00
Author: Rosenbusch, Marcia H.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Guidelines for Starting an Elementary School Foreign Language
Program. ERIC Digest.
In the past decade, schools have demonstrated increased interest in beginning
the study of foreign languages in the early grades. Influencing this trend are a
number of national reports urging that the study of languages other than English
begin early (Met & Rhodes, 1990). Another influence on the trend toward an
early start is research that indicates that the early study of a second language
results in cognitive benefits, gains in academic achievement, and positive
attitudes toward diversity (Rosenbusch, 1995).
Perhaps the most important influence on early foreign language study will
come from the national initiative, Goals 2000. In this initiative, foreign
languages are designated as part of the core curriculum, together with
traditional subject areas such as math, science, and social studies. As part of
this initiative, the foreign language profession has developed national
standards for foreign language programs beginning in kindergarten and continuing
through 12th grade. Although these standards are not mandatory, they are certain
to increase even further the interest in starting foreign language study in the
early grades (Phillips & Draper, 1994).
CAUTIONS IN PLANNING A PROGRAM
Schools that are planning
new elementary school foreign language programs need to be well informed about
the factors that led to the disappearance of the popular elementary school
foreign language programs of the 1950s and 1960s, because these factors continue
to be a challenge to program viability today (Heining-Boynton, 1990; Lipton
1992). Such factors include the following:
Lack of teachers with sufficient language skills and qualifications to teach a
foreign language to young students.
Programs inadequate in design and without the necessary funding.
Inappropriate or unrealistic program goals.
Lack of coordination and articulation across levels of instruction.
Inappropriate teaching methodologies for young students.
Inadequate and insufficient instructional materials.
Lack of evaluation procedures for students, teachers, and the program.
INITIATING THE PLANNING PROCESS
When a school has made the
decision to explore the implementation of an elementary school foreign language
program, the first step is to identify a steering committee to lead the process.
This committee should include representatives of all those who have a stake in
the implementation of a program: parents, foreign language teachers, classroom
teachers and school administrators from both the elementary and secondary
schools, district administrators, and business and community members. The
steering committee must complete the following tasks:
* Research the rationale for an early start to the study of a foreign
language in order to clarify the reasons for implementing an elementary school
* Examine the advantages and limitations of each program model by reading the
professional literature (including results of research studies), consulting with
language professionals, and visiting existing programs.
* Explore elementary school foreign language curricula and teaching
strategies to define the nature of current foreign language instruction at the
elementary school level.
* Explore models for articulating the foreign language program across levels
(elementary, middle school, high school) to provide for an uninterrupted
sequence of instruction that will result in higher levels of fluency in the
* Evaluate the school district's existing foreign language program so that
future plans can build on current program strengths.
* Inform teachers and administrators, parents, and the community about the
rationale for elementary school foreign language programs, strategies of
teaching foreign languages at this level, program models and outcomes, and
* Explore school, parent, business, and community support for an elementary
school foreign language program.
* Determine the most promising program model(s) for the local situation
through discussion of the philosophy of the foreign language program and the
desired program outcomes (Rosenbusch, 1991).
DESIGNING THE PROGRAM
Several components of the structure
of the elementary school foreign language program must be considered with
special care. These include: scheduling, curriculum design, instructional
materials, staffing, multiple entry points, student accessibility, language
choice, and program articulation, coordination, and evaluation (Curtain & Pesola, 1994; Met, 1985; Met, 1989; Rosenbusch, 1991). After researching the
literature and through inquiry during school visitations, the steering committee
should discuss each concern in depth before finalizing its recommendations.
Information about each of the program components can be found in the
references listed at the end of this paper. A key reference that will be
extremely useful to the committee is "Languages and Children: Making the Match"
(Curtain & Pesola, 1994). Two of the most challenging aspects are discussed
"Scheduling." The minimum amount of time recommended for an elementary school
foreign language class is 75 minutes per week, with classes meeting at least
every other day (Rosenbusch, 1992). Met and Rhodes (1990) suggest that "foreign
language instruction should be scheduled daily, and for no less than 30 minutes"
(p. 438) to provide periods that are long enough for activities that are
motivating to the students and to prevent teacher burnout.
"Language Choice." Determining which languages will be taught is potentially
the most controversial issue in program design (Met, 1989). Some experts
recommend that this decision be the last one made in order to keep the issue
from becoming divisive. As the decision is made, the following considerations
should be kept in mind: teacher availability, program organization and
scheduling, maintenance of established upper level language programs, and
language diversity (Curtain & Pesola, 1994).
PROGRAMS THAT LEAD TO HIGH LEVELS OF FLUENCY
steering committee determines that the central goal of the district's program is
that students attain a high level of fluency in the foreign language, the
committee will choose the earliest possible start for the study of the language,
maximize the time and intensity of the program at every level, and provide an
articulated program that flows across levels without interruption. Students will
be able to continue their study of the language throughout every level and will
have the opportunity to add a second language or change languages at the
beginning of middle or high school. All students will study a foreign language "regardless of learning style, achievement level, race/ethnic origin,
socioeconomic status, home language, or future academic goals" (Met & Rhodes, 1990, p. 438). The teachers involved in the program at all levels will
have excellent language skills, be well informed about current teaching
strategies, and work together as a team to provide a carefully developed,
DETERMINING PROGRAM FEASIBILITY
The steering committee
should examine the feasibility of the most promising program model(s) for the
local situation with the help of school administrators who determine budget,
scheduling, and space usage, and who make personnel decisions. Based on their
previous study and the feasibility information, the steering committee will
determine what recommendation it will make to school administrators and the
school board concerning the start-up of an elementary school foreign language
program (Rosenbusch, 1991). This final decision may be a difficult one to make.
If the district is not willing to make a serious commitment to developing a
strong foreign language program, the steering committee must be ready to
recommend that no elementary school program be established at the present time.
Experience demonstrates that it is difficult to change a weak program design for
a strong one once a program has been established. A weak program design will not
allow students to develop high levels of proficiency in the language.
If adequate support for a program is lacking, effort may be better spent in
solving the problems that prevent the establishment of a quality program and in
working to build support by educating the community about the nature and value
of strong foreign language programs. Met and Rhodes (1990) clarify that "a
primary goal in the next decade is to work actively to increase the number of
high-quality, carefully designed elementary-school foreign language programs
based on strong administrative, parental, and community support" (p. 438). The
implementation of elementary school foreign language programs of excellence is
critical to the development of the foreign language proficiency skills our
nation's students will need in the future.
Curtain, H., & Pesola, C.A. (1994).
"Languages and children: Making the match" (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Heining-Boynton, A. (1990). Using FLES history to plan for the present and
future. "Foreign Language Annals," 23, 503-509.
Lipton, G. C. (1992). "Practical handbook for elementary language programs"
(2nd ed.). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.
Met, M. (1985). Decisions! Decisions! Decisions! "Foreign Language Annals,"
Met, M. (1989). Which foreign language should students learn? "Educational
Leadership," 7, 54-58.
Met, M., & Rhodes, N. (1990). Priority: Instruction. Elementary school
foreign language instruction: Priorities for the 1990s. "Foreign Language
Annals," 23, 433-443.
Phillips, J., & Draper, J. (1994). National standards and assessments:
What does it mean for the study of second languages in the schools? In G.K.
Crouse (Ed.), "Meeting new challenges in the foreign language classroom" (pp.
1-8). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.
Rosenbusch, M. (1991). Elementary school foreign language: The establishment
and maintenance of strong programs. "Foreign Language Annals," 24, 297-314.
Rosenbusch, M., Ed. (1992). "Colloquium on Foreign Languages in the
Elementary School Curriculum. Proceedings 1991." Munich: Goethe Institut.
(Available from AATG, 112 Haddontowne Ct., #112, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034)
Rosenbusch, M. (1995). Language learners in the elementary school: Investing
in the future. In R. Donato & R. Terry (Eds.), "Foreign language learning,
the journey of a lifetime." Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.