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Foreign Language Curriculum Frameworks

Guiding Principles For Learning And
Teaching Foreign Languages

The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks define and describe what all students should know, understand, and be able to do as a result of the education provided to them in the Commonwealth's public schools. The inclusion of language study as a major component of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks signals the fundamental importance of knowing other languages for the development of highly educated citizens. Learning a second language reinforces understanding of one's first language, develops communicative competence, strengthens reading and writing skills, and opens the door to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the richness of diverse cultures. The following principles highlight the most important ideas that should inform the design of all foreign language programs in Massachusetts schools.

Guiding Principle I

All students should become proficient* in at least one language in addition to English by the time they graduate from high school. Students who select modern languages should be able to speak, read, write, and understand the foreign language they study; students who select a classical language should be able to read and understand the foreign language they study.

Knowledge of languages in addition to English is important for all students. Since the early 1980s, foreign language teachers have successfully developed and implemented strategies for including all students in the study of language as well as strategies for measuring growth as students progress from the novice learner stage to intermediate and advanced stages. Whether the primary goal of instruction is communicative proficiency, as in the case of modern languages, or reading comprehension, as in the case of classical languages, students' ability to use what they have learned in meaningful ways is the primary goal of all language programs.

* See The Developmental Stages of Language Proficiency section for descriptions of the developmental stages in language proficiency for modern and classical languages.

Guiding Principle II

Language acquisition is a lifelong process. Foreign language programs should begin in elementary school, since language acquisition is more easily accomplished at a young age, and continue beyond grade twelve.

Effective programs in foreign languages begin in elementary school and continue throughout high school because the benefits of learning a new language while very young are well-documented in research. Young children are able to acquire accent and intonation more easily than adolescents and adults, and uninterrupted sequences of language study lead over time to higher levels of proficiency and accuracy in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding.

Language learners must internalize a language's components such as its sound system, basic lexicon, and grammatical structure, all of which takes time and practice. Students of modern languages need abundant opportunities to speak, listen, read, and write in order to develop communicative fluency, understanding of how the language is constructed, and understanding of culturally-appropriate interactions. Students of classical languages need opportunities to increase reading comprehension and heighten the ability to interpret texts in their cultural contexts.

Districts should offer both PreK- grade 12 sequences in foreign language for all students and opportunities to begin the study of new languages in the upper grades. At the middle and high school levels, students should have opportunity to study several modern and/or classical languages in addition to English.

(See Appendix A for further discussion of foreign language programs in elementary schools.)

Guiding Principle III

Effective foreign language programs integrate the study of language with the study of culture, which includes daily life, history, literature, visual and performing arts, mathematics, and science. In this way, foreign language programs create natural links to all other disciplines.

Culture is a manifestation of a people's beliefs and values, perceptions and behaviors, and intellectual and artistic achievements. Becoming proficient in a second language is enhanced by an understanding of the ways in which a people expresses its values and conducts its relationships with others. As students study the daily life and history of another culture, read its literature and respond to its art forms, they develop a deeper awareness of the characteristics that bind us together as human beings even as they learn about the ways in which we are all different.

Studying the products (what people create, both tangible and intangible), practices (what people do), and perspectives (how people perceive reality) of a particular culture brings the learner closer to understanding how the people of that culture think, what motivates them, and what colors their perceptions of the larger world.

The study of culture also deepens our understanding of the connecting threads of the human story over time and will help students in their other courses. Whether we study the American Revolution or World War II, Goya or Gauguin, the Industrial Revolution or the history of computer technology, Mozart or John Philip Sousa, Vergil or Dante, Blake, Milton or Balzac, algebra or geometry, we are enriched when we trace the history of ideas to other times and places. Effective foreign language programs, therefore, teach students about the heritage and contemporary contributions of great writers, thinkers, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, statesmen, and performing and visual artists. By emphasizing cultural content, foreign language programs keep the connective thread to the past ever present, and help students recognize connections to the world beyond themselves. Study of classical languages takes students back to the roots of western civilization and allows them to understand the continuous influences of ancient languages, literature, art and architecture, scientific and mathematical thought, and values on the peoples of Europe and the Americas over the ages.

Guiding Principle IV

Assessment of student learning is an integral component of effective foreign language instruction.

As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts establishes new standards for student achievement in foreign languages, it is essential to plan and implement assessment strategies designed to help teachers improve instruction and students to focus their efforts toward achieving the standards. This framework promotes balanced instructional programs which develop speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in modern languages, and reading comprehension in classical languages. Programs in both modern and classical languages should also allow students to develop knowledge of literature, history, and culture. Ongoing classroom-based assessment methods should reflect the Strands and Learning Standards in this framework.

(See Appendix B for further discussion of foreign language assessments.)

Last Updated: January 1, 1999
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