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Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks

Communication Strand

(excerpted from the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning)

Communicative Competence

One of the most important goals of second language study is the development of communicative competence in languages other than English. When individuals have developed communicative competence in a language, they are able to convey and receive messages of many different types successfully. These individuals use language to participate in everyday social or work interactions and to establish relationships with others. They converse, argue, criticize, request, convince, and explain effectively, taking into account the age, background, education, and familiarity of the individuals with whom they are engaged in conversation. They also use the language to obtain information from written texts and media and to interpret that information given the style, context, and purpose of the communication. In essence, a communicatively competent individual combines knowledge of the language system with knowledge of cultural conventions, norms of politeness, discourse conventions, and the like, and is able to transmit and receive meaningful messages successfully.

In order to develop such competence, students of modern languages must learn how interpersonal relations are conducted in the cultures in which the target language is spoken, how individuals use language effectively to achieve different purposes, how discourse conventions work, how oral and written texts are structured, and how the language system operates. They must weave this knowledge together in the process of transmitting and receiving meaningful messages.

Students bring the insights that they have obtained from having developed communicative competence in their first language to the study of a second one. They already know how to request personal information from others, how to describe, how to argue, and how to explain in their first language. Depending on their age, they are able to obtain information from written texts and media and to interpret that information. When they learn a second language they must learn how to do these things by using a different language system and by following what may be very different rules of interpersonal interaction.

How Students Develop Communicative Competence
in Another Language

As opposed to long-held beliefs, we now know that students do not acquire communicative competence by learning the elements of the language system first. Students do not learn foreign languages most effectively by memorizing vocabulary items in isolation and by producing limited simple sentences. We now know that even those students who learn grammar well and are able to pass tests on nouns, verb conjugations, tense usage, and the like may be quite unable to understand language when it is spoken to them outside the classroom. The study of the language system itself, while useful for some students, does not automatically result in the development of the ability to process language in real situations and in the ability to respond meaningfully in appropriate ways.

Indeed, an earlier emphasis on the learning of the language system to the exclusion of meaningful interactive activities in the classroom has led to frustration and dissatisfaction for students. Many adults complain today that although they "took" two or more years of foreign language and obtained high grades on grammar examinations, they are unable to speak the language at all. This same emphasis has led to criticism of the foreign language teaching profession by a number of individuals who have argued that languages are badly taught in this country and that language study to date has resulted in few people who can transact business in the languages studied.

The Importance of Communication Strategies in the Development of Communicative Competence

We now know that most learners learn a modern language best when they are provided opportunities to use the target language to communicate in a wide range of activities. The more learners use the target language in meaningful situations, the more rapidly they achieve competence. Active use of language is central to the learning process; therefore, learners must be involved in generating utterances for themselves. They learn by doing, by trying out language, and by modifying it to serve communicative needs. Regardless of their stage of language acquisition, learners require strategies that allow them to compensate for language which they have not yet mastered. When breakdowns in communication occur, learners can call on these strategies in order to:

  • gain access to further relevant and comprehensible communicative information;
  • learn by experimenting;
  • learn from mistakes and try again;
  • practice and subsequently use various communication skills;
  • communicate with a wide variety of audiences;
  • learn how to compensate for shortcomings in communicating effectively; and
  • become confident and successful in second language use.

We now know also that effective learners adopt an immense variety of strategies concerned with seeking communicative information and experiences, with deliberate learning through practice, and with developing a conscious awareness and control. These strategies include requesting clarification, monitoring their own and others' performance, using various mnemonic techniques, using inductive and deductive reasoning, practicing sounds and structures subvocally or aloud, and using nonverbal communication strategies.

The Communication Strand and School-to-Career or
Community Service Learning Programs

Some modern language courses, particularly at the high school level, emphasize the development of oral communication skills so that students can interact effectively with others in a job situation or community service learning project. Taking as their subject the world of work, community, and family, these courses may emphasize vocabulary and concepts that are different from those students would encounter in a language course focused on the history and literature of the target culture.

Courses that emphasize speaking and listening in practical, job- or community-related contexts offer potential immediate benefits to students, but teachers of such courses should take care that students are also prepared to meet the reading and writing demands of the workplace and community. It is important that teachers include opportunities for students to read and understand authentic practical texts (such as laws and regulations, directions, warnings, technical instructions, product descriptions and diagrams, application forms, maps, signs and symbols) that they might encounter in specific work situations. It is also important that students learn how to respond in writing to demands they might encounter as a worker or volunteer (such as filling out a report, or taking information from a client).

The Communication Strand and Classical Languages

(adapted from Latin for Communication: New York State Syllabus)

The most important goal of classical language study is the development of reading skill in the target language and the reading and close study of works of ancient literature. The section below describes how teachers might apply the communication learning standard to Latin as an example of a classical language.

Reading Latin is the source from which the activities of the classroom naturally flow. When students read Latin literature, the are communicating in the most direct way possible with the ancient world.

All authentic materials written in Latin are a part of the corpus of Latin literature. Inscriptions, graffiti, light verse, and curse tablets convey important cultural or historical information, whether or not the author considered the writing as literary. Authentic materials need not be limited to authors of Latin prose and poetry such as Caesar, Cicero, and Vergil, although they will continue provide a focus for serious literary study.

Stages 1 and 2

Beginning Latin students may experience literature in three ways:

  • in the original Latin,
  • in an adapted Latin version, or
  • in English translation.

At this level students can read inscriptions, defixiones, graffiti, and coins in their original form. These are most usefully presented as a supplement to textbook material, For example, if a character in a textbook story dies or if a textbook contains a reading in English about Roman funerals, students could be introduced to authentic inscriptions from Roman tombs.

Many textbooks contain readings that have been adapted for beginning students from the works of Latin authors. When working on such a reading, students should learn the name of the author from whom the story was adapted and perhaps a few facts about him. Most of the reading at the beginning level will be Latin composed for the acquisition of content and language skills. Connected passages of culturally relevant materials to which beginning students can relate personally will best serve the purposes of Latin for communication.

Readings in translation may be used as a supplement to Latin readings. For example, if a textbook contains a Latin reading about a family burned out of a Roman apartment house (insula), the teacher might present selections in English from Martial or Juvenal that describe the dangers of urban life.

Stage 3

As students progress to the intermediate stages of Latin study, adapted passages will be closer to the original texts. More complicated inscriptions and graffiti may be read. Students at this level should be guided into a selection of continuous prose. Authors whose works are often adapted for intermediate use include Livy, Eutropius, Aulus Gellius, Cornelius Nepos, Caesar, and Cicero. Most classical authors will need to be adapted for students at this level, at least initially. There are a few authors, especially from the medieval period, whose works are suitable in the unadapted form.

If the students read an unabridged, simplified play by Plautus, they will learn who Plautus was, how Roman comedy developed from Greek models, and something about the conditions of Plautus' time. They will also have the chance to expand their understanding of the role of slaves in Roman society and to compare the Roman and modern concepts of humor.

Stage 4

The work of advanced students consists primarily of reading unadapted Latin authors. Caesar, Cicero, Pliny, Salust, Nepos, Livy, and perhaps even Tacitus, Quintilian, and Petronius may provide prose suitable for this level. Vergil, Catullus, Ovid, Horace, and perhaps Martial, Propertius, and Juvenal may provide poetry suitable for intense literary study for advanced students.

Last Updated: January 1, 1999
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