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Opening Statement

What are these Guiding Principles?

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is committed to providing vision, leadership, and support for quality teaching and learning to prepare the next generation of global citizens.  ACTFL represents its over 12,000 members through advocacy, support for language educators, and promotion of research to ensure that learners become linguistically and culturally competent to succeed as world citizens and in the global economy and develop self-awareness allowing them to understand themselves and interact with others.  To both represent language educators at all levels and to lead the discussion on effective instructional practices, ACTFL presents this series of statements.

Language learning is a core component essential in the education of every student.  Language learning develops essential 21st century skills as learners:

  • Participate in face-to-face interactions via technology, internships and volunteer opportunities in the community.
  • Apply their competence in a new language to their career and personal goals, broadening their thinking beyond self-serving goals.
  • Become more adept in understanding diverse cultural perspectives and their own identity.

These benefits are essential for and are within reach of all learners. An early start to learning a second language and sustained learning sequences show strong results in helping all learners achieve these results.  Those whose native or heritage/family language is not English also must be supported to develop skills to function and interact in their heritage language and culture, which also benefits their acquisition of English language proficiency.  All learners benefit from programs that support them as autonomous learners and that provide engaging and motivating activities and assessments.

These Guiding Principles for Language Learning inform not just educators and learners but also all stakeholders, including parents, administrators, governing bodies/boards, legislators, and the community at large. This initial set of statements comes from the position statements previously approved by the ACTFL Board; it is not a finite or fixed list.   It is intended that this set of statements will evolve and continue to grow as new topics emerge and to reflect new realities in the diversity of learners and learning situations.  These statements respond to the challenge to identify what is effective in language learning and provide guidance to educators and learners alike.  ACTFL welcomes ongoing discussion to update and refine these statements, informed by new research and experiences.

These Guiding Principles for Language Learning provide the means to shape discussion to answer questions that arise about specific practices, policies, or programs.  Professional learning communities or networks (including language departments, online communities, and formal or informal groups) will use these statements to explore their practices for language instruction and assessment.  Non-educators (including parents, board members, and administrators) will use these statements as a description of what to observe in classrooms at any level, providing a set of criteria for discussing what is effective for language learning.

Statement Format

Each statement follows the format of answering four questions:

  • What? Identifies the belief and briefly describes it.
  • Why? Explains a rationale behind the statement, a brief overview to frame the belief.
  • How?  Describes strategies for acting on this belief, implementing the practice in instructional settings, and using this guiding principle in supporting learners.
  • Find Out More:  Provides specific references for underlying research, additional resources, and applications.

The ability to communicate with respect and cultural understanding in more than one language is an essential element of global competence. This competence is developed and demonstrated by investigating the world, recognizing and weighing perspectives, acquiring and applying disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge, communicating ideas, and taking action.  Global competence is fundamental to the experience of learning languages whether in classrooms, through virtual connections, or via everyday experiences.  Language learning contributes an important means to communicate and interact in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world.  This interaction develops the disposition to explore the perspectives behind the products and practices of a culture and to value such intercultural experiences.


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