Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks
The Core Concept
When we embark on the study of a language not our own, we are initiating a learning adventure which, over and above the invaluable acquisition of another language, can confer upon us multiple educational benefits, capable of exerting a profound influence on our perceptions of the world around us and of permanently enriching and enlarging our appreciation and understanding of ourselves and of others. Language learning is never just about words. Language is the medium in which human beings think and by which they express what they have thought. The study of language -- any language -- is therefore the study of everything that pertains to human nature, as humans understand it.
The educational benefits of language learning manifest themselves as early as the first weeks of instruction. As students learn the foundation elements of any language -- the underlying system of symbols (i.e., words) that denominate the most common objects and the most common actions observable in their world -- they broaden their outlook by noting that their own language also has similar fundamental elements, which serve the identical function: to name and describe the world around them. That observation encourages students to compare the two languages, thus learning about the nature of all language.
At the same time, the teacher can help students notice that the language they are studying often depicts familiar things in a startlingly different way from their own language. That observation, in turn, engenders the awareness that every language embodies a unique way of perceiving reality, so that each language is also different from all other languages. Pondering the differences among languages, students of a second language recognize that, by learning a new way of perceiving and understanding reality, they are, in fact, expanding their own vision of the world and their personal insight into the varieties of human conduct and human communities.
When authentic materials in a second language are integrated into language study at all levels, the benefits to students increase dramatically. Students improve their skills in the principal uses of language: speaking, reading, writing, and understanding -- skills transferable to their native language and to other disciplines. Early exposure to foreign language study can have a positive effect on students' intellectual growth, enriching and enhancing their mental development, with positive effects on student performance across the curriculum4.
The collateral benefits of second language learning are most substantial and most enduring for students who pursue their language to a high level and begin to approach the skill and understanding of educated native users of that language. The central benefit becomes apparent when a student with that level of knowledge is able to view the world in a broader perspective free from the narrow prism of a single linguistic system. The acquisition of a second -- or even better, a third -- whole linguistic system, complete with knowledge of the historical and cultural traditions of each, can open the mind and the imagination to ever-widening spheres of experience and enlightenment, and can enrich one's life with endless possibilities for new intellectual and aesthetic adventures. Those are the priceless benefits of a truly successful education, for at its core, the ultimate goal of second language learning is to produce students who are measurably better educated than they could have been without it.
A Note on Classical Languages
All of the statements above apply to the learning of both modern and classical languages such as Latin and Greek. In some very significant ways, however, the learning of classical languages differs from the learning of modern languages. Latin is the most widely taught classical language in Massachusetts schools, and the differences between the goal of learning Latin and of learning modern languages have been summarized as follows:
- In modern languages, direct communication with native speakers is the ultimate goal. In Latin, however, communicative skills are developed in Latin and at the same time communicative skills in English are consciously developed. Students learn Spanish primarily to communicate in Spanish with Spanish-speaking people. In contrast, students learn Latin to have access to the mind and spirit of the Romans (and through them the Greeks), to gain awareness of their cultural heritage, and to improve their ability to communicate in English.5