ERIC Identifier: ED399761
Publication Date: 1996-06-00
Author: Marcos, Kathleen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Foreign Language Exploratory Programs: Introduction to Language
Learning. ERIC Digest.
Foreign Language Exploratory or Foreign Language Experience (FLEX) programs
offer one approach to initiating foreign language instruction for children. Many
of these programs are currently underway in U.S. schools. While it is difficult
to ascertain the exact number of FLEX programs in existence, a survey conducted
by the Center for Applied Linguistics (Rhodes & Oxford, 1988) reported that
41% of U.S. elementary schools offering foreign language instruction had FLEX
programs. Statistics on the number of middle schools offering FLEX programs are
WHAT IS FLEX?
Most FLEX programs aim to give students a
foundation for foreign language study; some programs introduce basic phrases in
a number of languages in order to sharpen listening skills and familiarize
students with the notion that thoughts can be expressed in another language.
These programs often help students to decide which language to study in later
grades. They may also serve to boost language enrollment in a school system.
FLEX courses frequently offer cultural information that can help students
develop an appreciation of other societies and customs. In some cases, the
primary focus is on world cultures; these programs are usually incorporated into
the social studies curriculum.
Included in the elementary or middle school curriculum, FLEX programs are
conducted with frequent, regular classes in a short time frame or with short,
less regular classes over a longer time period. Programs are usually not part of
an articulated sequence (Met & Rhodes, 1990), although they may be taught in
preparation for sequential courses. A small percentage of teaching time (1-5%
per week) is dedicated to a typical FLEX program, with the time spent exploring
one or more languages or presenting information about language itself.
Instruction is often given in English (Curtain & Pesola, 1994). FLEX courses
may be taught by itinerant language teachers or regular classroom teachers.
Language proficiency and teacher certification vary according to program goals
and state certification requirements.
Students should not expect to achieve fluency in a language at the end of a
FLEX course. It is important that both students and parents are clear on this
point. According to Lipton (1992), "FLEX is primarily a
The broad classifications of programs
outlined below are suggested by Curtain and Pesola (1994). A fourth type, the "Combination course," may contain elements of both general language and language
potpourri offerings. Usefulness of foreign languages in the work world and
careers in languages may also be discussed.
"General language" courses teach basic linguistic concepts such as the
existence of language families (e.g., Romance, Germanic) and their relationships
to one another. They may examine artificial languages, such as Esperanto,
computer languages, or Morse code, or explore non-spoken languages, such as
signed languages. There may be discussion of the modern and classical languages
available for later study in the school system. A common objective of these
programs is to educate students about general language principles in order to
facilitate future foreign language learning. Proficiency in a foreign language
is not a goal. Such programs may be approached as part of the language arts
"Language potpourri" or "world language study" courses are sampler programs
allocating a limited number of classes to each of several languages. Thus, three
weeks could be spent learning selected basic aspects of Spanish and a few
phrases in that language, while the next three weeks could be spent on French
and the last three on German. Some schools use the opportunity to introduce
Latin or Greek. The purpose of these programs is similar to that of the general
language course; in addition, they may help students decide which language to
study in later grades. Students learn phrases in various languages but do not
attain any degree of proficiency. Kennedy and De Lorenzo (1985) refer to this
program type as "trial language study".
"Single language offering." This option provides limited introductory
exposure to one language that students may later be able to choose for further
study. In general, limited or no proficiency in the language should be expected.
Lipton (1995) reports that some proficiency may be attained with a once- or
twice-a-week program that emphasizes functional language and cultural awareness.
Provo City Schools (Utah). As part of the
middle school exploratory curriculum, a combination FLEX program was initiated
at Grades 7 and 8 to increase interest in languages and to allow students a view
of "how" to learn a language before studying one. The program offered three-week
segments on French, German, Spanish, and Russian; two weeks on Japanese;
segments on cultural geography and cultural issues and language histories and
patterns; and one- to three-day modules on Arabic, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese,
Finnish, Navajo, and Swahili. French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese
were chosen because they are offered for sequential study in the school
district. Other languages were chosen because introductory materials were
available. The program used commercial language books, developed much of its own
instructional material, and used resources provided by a local outreach center.
Although the program has been discontinued due to staffing considerations, the
school district was satisfied that it helped students develop an interest in
languages and provided guidance on learning a language (P. Buckner, personal
communication, March 1996).
Twin Falls School District 411 (Idaho). Three consecutive single-language
sessions for eighth graders were undertaken at two junior high schools to boost
enrollment in languages and promote the establishment of a German sequential
program in the junior high. The program is meant to serve as an overview of
languages in general and of French, German, and Spanish specifically. Students
first spend two weeks studying linguistics and the nature of language
acquisition, then 12 weeks studying one of the above languages. The individual
language session concludes with the students giving a cultural talk on one
aspect of the language studied. Students then move on to the next language for
12 weeks and conclude with the last of the three languages. Materials used
include "Learning About Languages (A Comprehensive FLEX Activity Book)" and the
"Exploring French," "Exploring Spanish," and "Exploring German" series. The
books are used as a framework that is supplemented with a good deal of
teacher-developed material. The initial goal of establishing a German course was
met. Because the FLEX program is a "broad-brush" approach, there is no real
duplication of effort once students are enrolled in one of the year-long
language programs (S. Waters, personal communication, March 1996).
Prince George's County Public Schools (Maryland). This school system offers a
language potpourri/world language study program at both the elementary and
middle school levels. This approach gives all students the opportunity to
explore various languages and the cultures of the people who speak them. The
course helps students understand how languages are related, with special focus
on Latin and the Romance languages. The relationship of English to other
languages is studied through roots, prefixes, suffixes, and related and borrowed
words. Eight schools participate at Grade 5 (a year-long course); 26 participate
at Grade 7 (a semester course).
At the end of the course, students are expected to (1) integrate the use of
foreign expressions into the cultural situations where these expressions or
words are normally used; (2) show how concepts and beliefs are associated with
the target languages and the native speakers' day-to-day way of life; and (3)
explore the relationship of other languages to English. Students are generally
introduced to Spanish, French, Japanese, and Swahili, although some teachers
also include German, Russian, or Latin in the curriculum. Special student
packets for each language are created by teachers and include critical thinking
activities and curriculum indicators.
"Exploring Languages," the" Exploring Spanish" and "Exploring French series
from EMC, and the "Peoples and Places" series from Silver Burdett are used in
the classroom. Over 5,000 students take the exploratory courses each year, and
the program regularly meets its objectives. Through this program, students learn
about foreign language study skills and discover which foreign language and
culture may interest them for future formal study. At the middle and high school
level, students determine a single language to study, choosing Spanish, French,
German, Japanese, Italian, Latin, or Russian. Swahili will be offered in the
1996-97 school year (P. Barr-Harrison, personal communication, June 1996).
The Lovett School (Atlanta, GA). This combination general language/potpourri
FLEX program was established in Grade 6 to (1) introduce students to different
languages and cultures; (2) offer students who had taken French in Grades K-5 an
option to study other languages before committing to a two-year study of a
foreign language (French, Latin, German, or Spanish) in Grade 7 and 8; (3)
accommodate the large number of new students in Grade 6; and (4) provide a
foreign language at all grade levels. The program aims to introduce the
interrelatedness of languages, foster an appreciation of world cultures, teach a
few expressions in other languages, and give an understanding of different forms
of communication. A new language is introduced every week and a half. In
addition to discussing hieroglyphics, Braille, and signed languages, teachers
introduce Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, German, French,
Spanish, Hindi, Swahili, and Arabic. Some of these may be omitted; others may be
added, depending on student interest and resources. Teachers emphasize that all
languages can be interesting and fun to learn. Most program materials were
developed by program staff, to be used in conjunction with "Learning About
"Exploring Languages" is the main resource for teachers. Because the modules
are short and flexible, interdisciplinary units can be created or coordinated
with other curricula. The program has achieved its goals and is popular with
students, teachers, and parents (C. Farmer, personal communication, April 1996).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The National FLES* Institute at the
University of Maryland at Baltimore, Department of Modern Languages and
Linguistics, Baltimore, MD 21228 (310-231-0824) is a good source of information
on FLEX programs. For general information on early language programs, contact
the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) at the Center for
Applied Linguistics, 1118 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20037 (202-429-9292).
Curtain, H., & Pesola, C.A. (1994).
"Languages and children: Making the match" (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman.
Kennedy, D.F., & De Lorenzo, W. (1985). "Complete guide to exploratory
foreign language programs, including descriptions of successful programs."
Chicago, IL: National Textbook.
Lipton, G. (1992). "Elementary foreign language programs. FLES*. An
administrator's handbook. Chicago, IL: National Textbook.
Lipton, G. (1995). "Focus on FLES*. Planning and implementing FLES* programs
(foreign language in elementary schools)". Baltimore, MD: National FLES*
Met, M., & Rhodes, N. (1990). Priority: Instruction. Elementary school
foreign language instruction: Priorities for the 1990s. "Foreign Language
Annals, 23," 433-443.
Rhodes, N., & Oxford, R. (1988). Foreign languages in elementary and
secondary schools: Results of a national survey. "Foreign Language Annals, 21,"
Bender, L. (1988). "People and places: France." Columbus, OH: Silver Burdett.
Grittner, F.M. (Ed.). (1994). Special middle school edition. "Foreign
Language Annals, 27," 1-120.
Kennedy, D.F., Barr-Harrison, P., & Wilmeth, M.G. (1994). "Exploring
languages. A complete introduction for foreign language students." Lincolnwood,
IL: National Textbook.
Lipton, G. (1992). "Practical handbook to elementary foreign language
programs, including FLES, FLEX, and immersion programs (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL:
Lubiner, E.D. (1992). "Learning about languages (a comprehensive FLEX
activity book). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook.
Sheeran, J., & McCarthy, J.P. (1995). "Exploring French." St. Paul, MN:
EMC. (German and Spanish versions also available.)
Tollhurst, M.B. (1989). "People and places: Spain." Columbus, OH: Silver
Widdows, R. (1988). "People and places: Mexico." Columbus, OH: Silver