World languages are an important component of effective middle level education.
Helping young adolescents become fully functioning, self-actualized persons who are prepared for college, career, and the world, means giving them multiple opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the classroom and connect ideas across disciplines through problem solving and critical thinking.
One way to reach these ambitious goals is through world language education. Yet, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics (www.cal.org), world language instruction at the middle level is rapidly declining. In fact, for a variety of reasons, including lack of funding, shortage of teachers, and the view that world language is not important, only about 50% of all middle schools offer world language.
We argue that world language education is important to middle level education and supports the tenets advocated in This We Believe.
The Goals of World Language Education
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has identified five goal areas of world language education—five Cs—that support students as they bring “a global competence to their future careers and experiences.”
1. Communication: Communicate effectively in more than one language through interpersonal (spontaneous oral and written communication), presentational (planned one-way oral and written communication), and interpretive (reading, listening, and viewing) modes.
2. Cultures: Interact with cultural competence and understanding through exploration of practices—perspectives and products—perspectives of various cultures.
3. Connections: Connect with other disciplines to acquire information and diverse perspectives.
4. Comparisons: Develop insight into the nature of language and culture through critical compare-contrast investigations.
5. Communities: Communicate and interact appropriately at home and around the world.
Connecting with This We Believe
The five Cs clearly support the major goals of middle level educators outlined in This We Believe:
Middle Level Education Goal #1: Become actively aware of the larger world, asking significant and relevant questions about that world and wrestling with big ideas and questions for which there may not be one right answer. (Communication, Cultures, Connections, and Comparisons)
Through language instruction, learners become aware that they are a small part of a much larger world. By exploring big ideas they connect to multiple disciplines. For example, in a unit on healthy living, students examine: What is healthy living? How is my view of diet and exercise connected to where I live?
Through these essential questions, they can connect ideas to mathematics, science, and health (e.g., calories, exercise) and geography (e.g., location and food availability) through the language. They can use this knowledge to critically examine the impact of their own food choices and lifestyle on their own health.
They might investigate how MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov) is different from traditional food pyramids and how values may differ from country to country. They can compare and contrast the menus of fast food chains in other countries to identify the preferences of diverse people. They can use this new knowledge to think creatively about how they might create a new school lunch menu and how this menu might differ if they lived in a different country. They complete all of these activities through the medium of a world language.
Middle Level Education Goal #2: Use digital tools to explore, communicate, and collaborate with the world and learn from the rich and varied resources available. (Communication and Communities)
In teaching world languages, middle level educators can leverage digital tools as ways for students to explore, communicate, and collaborate with the world. Tools such as Skype or Edmodo can help students connect with peers from other countries and extend their opportunities for relevant and engaging language-learning experiences.
Students can connect with other students to explore daily routine, hobbies, and school life. These experiences support communication in the target language and the valuation of diversity.
Middle Level Education Goal #3: Respect and value the diverse ways people look, speak, think, and act within the immediate community and around the world. (Cultures and Comparisons)
Through inquiry-based learning, students can explore the practices and products of various peoples to understand and explain how people look, speak, think, and act, thereby supporting their ability to respect and value diversity. They may learn that it makes a difference whether an even or odd number of flowers is given to a friend or that the perception that Friday the 13th is an unlucky date might differ in other countries.
As they explore how and why people act in certain ways, they also examine their own culture from a critical perspective.
Middle Level Education Goal #4: Develop the interpersonal and social skills needed to learn, work, and play with others harmoniously and confidently. (Communication, Cultures)
One of the benefits of world language education is that students explore issues from multiple perspectives and thus develop their empathy—a critical trait as young adolescents grow socially and emotionally.
For example, by reading J.M.G. Le Clézio’s short story L’enfant de sous le pont (The Child from Under the Bridge) French language students explore topics such as homelessness, racism, and stereotypes. They imagine how they might feel and respond in different situations.
Because the primary goal of world language instruction is communication, all students engage in activities in which they listen, read, speak, and write in multiple contexts. With regard to interpersonal communication, they use strategies to respectfully interrupt, stall, and keep a conversation going. They learn how to write letters and emails, and how these interpersonal exchanges (oral and written) differ from culture to culture.
Middle Level Education Goal #5: Understand local, national, and global civic responsibilities and demonstrate active citizenship through participation in endeavors that serve and benefit those larger communities. (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities)
World language teachers often integrate authentic texts such as brochures and newspaper articles. Students can read about current events that affect not just their own communities, but also communities around the world. For example, students can explore environmental issues and how individuals respond to environmental crises around the globe. They might respond to questions such as “How do my actions affect the environment?” They can interact with people from other cultures to not only practice their language skills but also to learn firsthand of how other adolescents think about environmental issues.
To more clearly understand their own civic role, students can practice language skills by writing letters to local and national representatives and creating pamphlets/videos for members of the community who speak another language. They can explore issues affecting other countries and mimic an election with debates.
Growing Young Adolescents
Clearly, through world language education, we can help develop young adolescents to be fully functioning self-actualized individuals.
The value of world language education cannot be underestimated; it should be considered an important aspect
of middle level education.