Promoting a Language Proficient Society: What
You Can Do. ERIC Digest.
by Marcos, Kathleen M. - Peyton, Joy Kneeft
Interest in and support for language study has been strengthened in
the United States in recent years by the growing recognition that proficiency
in more than one language benefits both individual learners and society.
For the individual language learner, research has found a positive link
between second language proficiency and cognitive and academic ability.
Several studies indicate that individuals who learn a second language are
more creative and better at solving complex problems than those who do
not (Bamford & Mizokawa, 1991). Other studies correlate bilingual proficiency
with higher scores on standardized tests and tests of both verbal and nonverbal
intelligence (Caldas & Boudreaux, 1999; Hakuta, 1986; Thomas, Collier,
& Abbott, 1993). A multilingual workforce enhances America's economic
competitiveness abroad, helps maintain our political and security interests,
and promotes tolerance and intercultural awareness.
Although the opportunities that are available for learning languages
may vary depending on where you live in the United States, there are many
things you can do to encourage the study of languages in your home, your
classroom, or your community, whether you live in a small town or a major
metropolitan area. This digest suggests specific ways that parents, teachers,
school administrators, policymakers, and members of the business community
can foster the learning of languages among children and adults.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
*Expose your children to people from varied language and cultural backgrounds.
* Participate in events where language and cultural diversity are celebrated.
* If you speak a language other than English, use it with your children.
* Speak positively to your children about the value of learning another
* Provide videos, music, and books in other languages.
* Send your children to summer language camps. For older children, consider
programs in which they can study languages abroad.
* Explore having an exchange student from another country in your home.
* Investigate opportunities for formal language study for your children,
beginning as early as preschool and extending through their high school
* Reinforce existing language programs by expressing support for them
to local, state, and national representatives.
* If your child is participating in a language program, talk to the
teacher about what you can do at home to reinforce the learning that takes
place in the classroom.
* If your child's school does not have a language program, talk with
other parents, PTA members, and the principal about getting one started.
WHAT CAN TEACHERS DO?
* Find out which languages are spoken by school staff, by students,
and in the community at large. Speak with parents and administrators about
options for using community resources to promote language and cultural
awareness among students.
* Use resources from school and local libraries and from the Internet
to enhance foreign language lessons.
* Set up an in-class lending library with foreign language books, magazines,
and videotapes for students and parents to use.
* Align your foreign language curriculum with the national standards
for foreign language learning.
* Plan activities that encourage students to develop an awareness and
appreciation of the linguistic and cultural diversity represented in your
* Give your students opportunities to use their languages outside your
classroom (for example, within your school, at other schools, or at community
events or agencies).
* Encourage parents who speak a language other than English to use it
with their children.
* Talk to parents about activities and study habits that can improve
their children's language learning.
* Invite community members who use languages other than English in their
careers to discuss career opportunities with middle and high school students.
* Collaborate with other foreign language, bilingual, and English as
a second language teachers to share resources and work together toward
* Pursue professional development activities (attend conferences, read
journals and newsletters, take courses and seminars) to keep up to date
on language learning research and on new approaches to language teaching.
* Travel abroad to expand or update your knowledge of the language and
* Keep up with advances in language learning technology and adopt new
and stimulating approaches to teaching languages, such as promoting videoconferencing
experiences and international "keypal" (penpal) projects on the Internet.
WHAT CAN SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS DO?
If a language program does not currently exist in your school or district:
* Develop a rationale for establishing a program by reading professional
literature on the importance of second language learning and the cognitive
benefits of developing second language proficiency.
* Work with district administrators or the school board to establish
a steering committee made up of parents, foreign language and other teachers,
district administrators at all levels, and business and community members
to investigate the feasibility of establishing a program in your school
* Learn about the different types of language programs to determine
the most appropriate program for your school or district.
* Take inventory of existing resources (staff and materials) to determine
the type and size of program your school or district can realistically
* Generate community support at PTA meetings and teacher conferences.
Hold district-wide planning meetings and invite community leaders, business
representatives, language and other teachers, and administrators. Ensure
ongoing communication among all groups that have a stake in the establishment
and maintenance of language programs through regular meetings and updates.
If your school or district already has a language program:
* Ensure that all students have the opportunity to study languages.
* Hire trained teachers who are skilled in the languages they teach.
* Provide resources and professional development opportunities for language
* Promote and provide opportunities for collaboration among all teachers
involved in second language education. For example, establish a committee
for second language teachers.
* Purchase language materials for the school library.
* Promote and support the use of new technologies to enhance language
* Devote sufficient instructional time to languages other than English
to enable students to achieve proficiency. This should be a minimum of
75 minutes per week, preferably at least three to five times per week for
45 to 60 minutes each. At the middle and high school levels, language classes
should meet for as long as other academic classes, such as math and science.
* Promote articulation of language classes (the logical sequencing of
courses in the curriculum to avoid unnecessary repetition) at the elementary,
middle, and high school levels.
* For middle and high schools, hold career days to provide information
about jobs that require skills in more than one language.
* Use student and community resources to strengthen the program (for
example, through tutoring, international fairs, cross-cultural exchanges,
and guest speakers).
WHAT CAN POLICYMAKERS DO?
* Budget adequate financial resources to establish and improve second
language programs in your school, district, or state.
* Support and fund professional development programs for second language
* Support and fund curriculum development projects carried out by second
* Establish policies that promote the study of second languages at all
levels by all students.
* Support research on the effectiveness of various models and practices
for second language programs.
* Support the establishment of standards for and assessment of student
and teacher performance at local, state, and national levels.
* Support policies that respect the diversity of students in your community
WHAT CAN THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY DO?
*Make policymakers aware of the need for workers to be proficient in
more than one language.
* Send company representatives to school career days to talk to students
about the important role that languages other than English play in the
* Talk with teachers and administrators about how they can help prepare
students to work in an increasingly global economy.
* Establish partnerships with schools, other businesses, and communities
to support activities such as student internships, tutoring, and mentoring.
* Ensure that jobs requiring language skills are filled by applicants
who are truly proficient in the languages needed.
* Provide employees with opportunities to maintain and improve their
* Provide appropriate cultural training for employees who work in culturally
* Establish partnerships with school districts to provide financial
support for starting or maintaining language programs.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
*Many of the ideas listed here are from Languages and Children: Making
the Match, by Helena Curtain and Carol Ann Pesola (Longman, 1994), and
"Elementary School Foreign Language: The Establishment and Maintenance
of Strong Programs," by Marcia H. Rosenbusch (Foreign Language Annals,
24, 297-31, Sept. 1991).
* American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 6 Executive
Plaza, Yonkers NY 10701, phone 914-963-8830, www.actfl.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
* Center for Applied Linguistics, 4646 40th Street NW, Washington DC
20016-1859, phone 202-362-0700, www.cal.org, email@example.com
* National Network for Early Language Learning, Attn: Nancy Rhodes,
Executive Secretary, Center for Applied Linguistics, 4646 40th Street NW,
Washington DC 20016-1859, phone 202-362-0700 ext 257, www.educ.iastate.edu/nnell
* An on-line directory of resources for foreign language programs, a
collaboration of the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education and
the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, will be forthcoming
in Summer 2000. Visit www.cal.org/ericcll/directory.html for more information.
Bamford, K.W., & Mizokawa, D.T. (1991). Additive-bilingual (immersion)
education: Cognitive and language development. "Language Learning, 41,"
Caldas, S.J., & Boudreaux, N. (1999). Poverty, race, and foreign
language immersion: Predictors of math and English language arts performance.
"Learning Languages, 5," 4-15.
Hakuta, K. (1986). "Mirror of language." New York: Basic Books.
Thomas, W.P., Collier, V.P., & Abbott, M. (1993). Academic achievement
through Japanese, Spanish, or French: The first two years of partial immersion.
"Modern Language Journal, 77," 170-180.