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Characteristics of Effective Elementary School Foreign Language Programs

1. Access and Equity

All students, regardless of learning styles, achievement levels, race/ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, home language, or future academic goals, have opportunities for language study.

2. Program Goals and Program Intensity

Program goals are consistent with the amount of time actually provided for instruction. The desired program outcomes determine time allocations for elementary school programs. There are three types of programs at the K-8 level:

  • FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School)
  • Immersion
  • FLEX (Foreign Language Experience or Exploratory)

These programs vary in levels of language proficiency to be achieved, amount of cultural knowledge to be gained, and time required to reach the program goals.

FLES programs are designed to provide a sequential language learning experience aiming for some degree of language proficiency.

Immersion programs combine foreign language instruction with content learning from the regular curriculum.

FLEX programs are designed to provide limited exposure to one or more foreign languages for presecondary students.

3. Extended Sequence

Elementary and middle/junior high school foreign language programs are the foundation for a long, well-articulated sequence of carefully developed curricula that extend through grade 12. Students in such programs can develop increased language proficiency and cultural competence.

4. Articulation

Articulation of the extended sequence is both vertical and horizontal, including the elementary school, the middle/junior high school, and the high school. This articulation is the result of consensus, careful planning, and monitoring among language teachers, administrators, and parents at all levels. Students in these programs achieve outcomes that are consistent across grade levels.

5. Curriculum

Human, fiscal and time resources are available for systematic curriculum development. The curriculum review cycle provides for assessment.

6. Instruction

Instruction is appropriate to the developmental level of the students and consistent with program outcomes and current professional practices.

7. Materials

Materials appropriate for students' developmental level, rich in authentic culture and language, and related to the curriculum are key components in elementary school foreign language programs. The main focus of all materials, both print and non-print, is the teaching of communication.

8. Evaluation

Processes for evaluating both student achievement and program success are in use. Evaluation processes are appropriate to the goals, objectives, and teaching strategies of elementary school foreign language programs, as well as to the developmental level of children.

9. Staffing

Programs are staffed by certified teachers who have completed preparation in methods and materials for elementary school foreign language instruction, developmental characteristics of the elementary school learner, and the nature of the elementary school curriculum. Modern foreign language teachers should have a high level of language and cultural competence. Based on the ACTFL/ETS proficiency scale, a teacher's oral proficiency in a foreign language should be "Advanced."

10. Professional Development

An ongoing program of professional development should allow teachers to advance in their levels of language, culture, and instruction.

11. School and Community Support and Development

The foreign language teachers work with the entire school community to integrate the foreign language curriculum into the school educational program. The elementary school foreign language program shows responsibility for and makes effective use of parent and community resources and of school board and administrative staff.

12. Culture

The connection between language and culture is made explicit, and foreign language instruction is implemented within a cultural context. Cultural awareness and understanding are explicit goals of the program. The program collaborates with other cultures and countries (exchange programs, pen pals, etc.) to assure language learning within a context of cultural experiences.



These characteristics are based on work begun at the 1989 ACTFL Priorities Conference and continued at the 1990 ACTFL Annual Meeting. A summary statement from the Elementary School Foreign Language Strand of the Priorities Conference is contained in the ACTFL Newsletter (Summer 1990, 2(4)). The complete paper by Myriam Met, Montgomery County Public Schools (MD), and Nancy Rhodes, Center for Applied Linguistics (1990) is contained in "Foreign Language Annals, 23(5)," 433-443.


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