New Jersey is home to more than 100 ethnic groups, and about 125 different languages are spoken in our state. To support the growth of New Jersey's dynamic economy as we move into the twenty-first century, our state needs educated citizens whose multilingual abilities and multicultural sensitivities prepare them to work in a pluralistic society and a global economy. As countries become increasingly interdependent, it is essential that we actively promote proficiency in world languages to improve cross-cultural understanding. We must therefore help New Jersey students to broaden their personal and professional opportunities by giving them the ability to communicate in other languages, and the understanding needed to function in different cultural contexts. As a branch of the humanities, language education facilitates cross-cultural understanding by providing students with the tools to decode the histories and cultural practices embedded in world languages.
We refer to the languages we teach as World Languages to reflect the experience of the cultures that preceded us and our own multilanguage population. This section is titled World Languages in support of all the languages and peoples of the world, and in acknowledgment of our responsibility to communicate with others. The core curriculum content standards for World Languages are guided by the following principles:
World languages are an essential part of the education of all students. Elementary and high school students who have had the opportunity to study a world language benefit in the following ways:
The primary goal of a world language program is effective communication. The experience of communicating in other languages makes this discipline unique. Students will be able to use the languages they have studied in meaningful ways because they experience the language in authentic situations. The focus is upon what students can do with the language rather than what they know about it.
Effective communication is a dynamic rather than a static concept. It depends on the interaction and negotiation of meaning between two or more persons who share to some degree the same symbolic systems of written and spoken language. Effective communication takes place in a variety of situations, and success depends on the student's understanding of context, building on prior experience of a similar kind. Teaching thus should be geared toward conversation and understanding, and include the use of non-print (video, audiotapes) as well as print materials.
All students should be able to communicate in at least one language in addition to English. The process of learning another language provides an opportunity for all students to think in a different way and to learn to appreciate differences among people. World language teachers can best encourage such respectful attitudes if their students also represent different backgrounds and experiences. By working together, diverse learners realize that they share a need for language as a tool of expression and communication.
Culture is an integral part of world language learning. Since culture is inextricably woven into the language, we cannot separate language from the culture in which it is used; nor can we isolate cultural information as if culture could be reduced to a collection of facts apart from language. Including the cultural component in all skill areas is important. Connecting language and communication skills with culture creates a more powerful learning experience for students.
An effective world language class is student-centered. Students are actively engaged in using the language by interacting with each other and the teacher, and by communicating about things which have meaning to them.
World language programs should start in kindergarten and continue uninterrupted through grade 12. Research over the last 20 years in the United States and abroad underscores the importance of beginning world language study at an early age, when children easily and naturally acquire language. The primary years are the best time to begin second language study. The degree of language proficiency is directly proportional to the amount of time spent by students in meaningful communication in the language studied.
An effective world language program provides content that is meaningful and interesting to students. It provides developmentally and age appropriate activities integrating language components such as understanding, listening, speaking, reading, writing, and culture in order to promote active communication. The success of any world language program depends upon the cooperation of the entire school community: students, teachers, parents, administration, and board of education.
Beginning a world language program in the early primary grades sends a strong message about the value our society places on knowing other languages and cultures. Such a message helps bilingual and limited-English proficient students to appreciate their own heritage, language, and culture, and sets the stage for successful school experience. An early start enables all children to view language learning and insight into other cultures as integral parts of their school experience.
World languages connect with all other disciplines. Successful language learning activities are interdisciplinary. World languages have more meaning and purpose when tasks are a natural outgrowth of school life, and emerge from the content area of other disciplines. A content-enriched approach develops students' skills in the studied language while enhancing their knowledge of the content of other humanities disciplines, such as literature, history, and geography. Connections may flow from other areas to the world language classroom, or may originate in the world language classroom to add unique insight to the rest of the curriculum.
Communities should provide a strong, well-articulated sequence of language study. Various program models and staffing options leading to world language proficiency are available to school districts and program planners. Because each school district has its own particular characteristics, a variety of solutions will evolve from the needs of each community. Districts must choose options according to the language proficiency outcomes they desire, and the budgetary and staffing circumstances in which they find themselves. Other considerations might be: the languages that the community and the students prefer, based on local traditions and ethnic interests; the availability of well-trained teachers who might reasonably be expected to stay with the program for a number of years; and the number of languages that the school population can support without eliminating the possibility of offering advanced level courses. In considering the above, the school district should identify the priority of communicative functions or speech acts the students should be able to perform in the second language, and the structures needed for active communication. Compelling rationale can be developed for any world language, and any language, when well taught, can provide students with the benefits of global awareness, enhanced skills in content areas, awareness of other cultures, and increased language skills and self-esteem.
Expecting elementary and middle level students to communicate in a second language, even at the beginner level, is new for most schools. However, such an expectation is routine for students of similar ages in other advanced nations and in some states and some New Jersey school districts. Because it is the academic content area with which we have the least experience, New Jersey will assess world languages for the first time in school year 2001-2002. Therefore, schools will have six years to prepare for this content area to "come on line." Districts will have discretion in deciding at what grade (e.g., K,1,2,3,4) and in what year (e.g., 1996/97 - 2001/2002) to introduce world languages into their education program.
The "content standards" are the results expected by the completion of a student's K-12 experience. They are accompanied by progress indicators for the end of grades 4, 8 and 12. These indicators describe what knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire by these benchmark grades. As with all other content standards, world languages will be further defined by companion "performance standards." Performance tasks and levels will be developed through New Jersey's State Assessment Program at grades 4, 8 and 11/12. Performance standards will be developed in consultation with elementary teachers and world language specialists. These standards will be set at realistic levels that emphasize students' general exposure to the language and its culture.
Curtain & Pesola. (1994). Languages and children: Making the match.
Gittner. (1995). Guide to curriculum planning in foreign languages. State of Wisconsin.
National Advisory Board on International Education Programs. (1983). Report to the Secretary of Education.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform.
President's Commission on Foreign Language & International Studies. (1979). Strength through wisdom.
All students will be able to communicate at a basic literacy level in at least one language other than English.
All students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the interrelationship between language and culture for at least one world language in addition to English.
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