ERIC Identifier: ED276301
Publication Date: 1985-09-00
Author: Kennedy, Dora F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.

Exploratory Foreign Language Courses in the Middle or Junior High School. ERIC Digest.

Within the foreign language field, the term "exploratory" refers to self-contained, nonsequential, interdisciplinary courses designed to introduce students to a variety of languages and cultures. Such courses differ from lengthy courses designed to teach a specific language (though exploratory courses use specific languages for examples) (Kennedy and De Lorenzo, 1985). These courses are taught in English except for the foreign language component, and they are usually offered in middle and junior high schools. Exploratory courses are found in most states, with interest in them increasing, especially in the Middle West and in the East.


One of the major thrusts of the middle school concept, and of the junior high school as originally conceived, is the provision of opportunities for children in the early adolescent stage of development to explore a broad range of academic and vocational fields. Advocates of exploratory programs feel that such programs are in keeping with the developmental needs of this age group (Hawkins, 1981). The exploratory foreign language course has, therefore, become closely identified with the middle school curriculum. Having been exposed to this type of course, the middle school pupil is better equipped to make a reasoned decision about future language study.


By no means. This type of course was first conceived in the late teens and early 1920s during the emergence of the junior high school. It grew in popularity until the post World War II era when the focus shifted to lengthy sequential programs beginning in elementary school. However, a few exploratory programs survived during the 1950s and 60s. In the early 1970s, the course reemerged as a viable pre-high school foreign language experience with content surprisingly similar to that of the early courses (Kennedy and De Lorenzo, 1985).


Exploratory courses fall under three broad classifications based on the nature of their content:

General Language. Content includes introduction to the phenomenon of language, its history and the idea of its structure; language families; comparisons among languages; a look at several languages, including artificial languages such as Esperanto; and the concept of computer languages.

Language Potpourri (or "Trial Language Study"). Usually, several weeks are spent on each of a few languages. Teaching covers mited survival skills together with cultural material related to each language. Building readiness for more formal study of a foreign language can also be part of this course. The languages sampled are usually those offered in the school system.

Combination. The Kennedy/De Lorenzo survey revealed that most exploratory courses contained elements of both general language and language potpourri in a variety of organizational formats. In addition, several or all of the following elements may be incorporated into the models: (1) Latin as one of the languages explored, or infused (or both) throughout the course; (2) language heritage in the United States, e.g., the French, Spanish, German, or native American heritage; (3) career awareness, i.e., the role of foreign languages in the world of work; (4) languages other than those taught in the school system incorporated on a less formal basis as planned "experiences" during the course. Such languages could include a language commonly spoken in the community or one of the less commonly taught languages.

When instituting an exploratory course, the school system must decide which of such models it will establish. Then a curriculum guide as well as a detailed curriculum should be written. The guide should include policies and course organization; goals, concepts, objectives; actual phrases and expressions to be explored for each language (in dialog form); cultural material and projects; sample tests, including an end-of-course test; homework suggestions and grading policy; and basic daily lesson format.

The basic daily lesson format should include foreign language practice; linking the foreign language with English skills and vocabulary building; culture discussion, projects, and reports; review of the phrases practiced; and the learning of songs. Homework should be given, and students graded as in any other course.

Because of their flexible nature, exploratory courses can fit into the scheduling pattern of most middle schools. Courses have been scheduled to span a year, semester, or nine weeks, for example, meeting daily or on alternate days. A course less than a semester long, however, leaves little time to address the major components, particularly the specific language skills.


Few institutions offer college level courses like the "World of Language" course at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, courses specifically designed to prepare students to teach exploratory courses. Consequently, foreign language teachers, preferably those who have a background in more than one foreign language, teach the exploratory course. If teachers in a school only know one language, they can exchange classes at the end of a specified period of time, such as at the end of the semester. Or, as experience in the Prince George's County, Maryland, schools shows, some foreign language teachers may quite easily acquire survival skills in a second foreign language, allowing schools more flexibility in which languages will be included.

Regardless of the teachers' professional preparation, an orientation session should be provided for all teachers who will teach the course for the first time. The session should be designed to ensure that teachers understand the concept of the course and that they follow a daily basic lesson format similar to the one described above. In addition, teachers should be clear about the difference between exploratory courses and Level I courses and should be sure that students and parents are also clear about this. The exploratory course is NOT a "watered down" Level 1 course, but rather an interdisciplinary course involving language development and several languages and cultures. Additional in-service sessions should be provided to help the teachers prepare their own long-range plan based on the curriculum.


Materials already in social studies and foreign language departments can be adapted. Maps, texts about countries, filmstrips, films, travel guides, culture pamphlets, and books containing survival phrases and expressions for several languages are all appropriate, as are texts dealing with general language concepts, Latin and Greek roots, and the like. Students can also create materials during "hands-on" experience. Such materials can be used for teaching other students. It is important, however, that at least one text be designated as "basic" and assigned to each student. Additionally, students should be required to keep a notebook exclusively for the course.


The following public school systems are frequently mentioned in the literature as having long-standing successful programs, and they are willing to share materials and guides. Contact the Foreign Language Division.

Topeka Public Schools (1970) 624 24th Street Topeka, KS 66611

Baltimore County Public Schools (1970) 6901 Charles Street Baltimore, MD 21204

Prince George's County Public Schools (1973) Sasscer Administrative Bldg. 14201 School Lane Upper Marlboro, MD 20870

Fairfax County Public Schools (1974) The Administration Center 10700 Page Avenue Fairfax, VA 22030 (800) 691-2502

Waukesha Public Schools (1979) 222 Maple Avenue Waukesha, WI 53186


Hawkins, E. MODERN LANGUAGES IN THE CURRICULUM. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Kennedy, D., and W.E. De Lorenzo. COMPLETE GUIDE TO EXPLORATORY FOREIGN LANGUAGE PROGRAMS. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company, 1985.

Kennedy, D., and P. Barr-Harrison. FOREIGN LANGUAGES--MIDDLE SCHOOL. EXPLORATORY FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Second Edition. Upper Marlboro, MD: Prince George's County Public Schools, 1982. ED 240 846.


National Education Association. EDUCATION IN THE 80'S: CASSETTE ON EXPLORATORY FOREIGN LANGUAGE. With American Council on Foreign Languages. Washington, DC: Author.


Sims, W.D., and S.B. Hammond. AWARD WINNING FOREIGN LANGUAGE PROGRAMS. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company, 1981.

Stern, H.H. "Toward a Multidimensional Foreign Language Curriculum." In FOREIGN LANGUAGES: KEY LINKS IN THE CHAIN OF LEARNING, ed. Robert J. Mead. Middlebury, VT: Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1983. ED 240 863.

Strasheim, L.A. "FLEX: The Acronym and the Entity." UNTERRICHTSPRAXIS 15(1) (1982):60-63.

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