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African American Linguists (AAL)

Promoting World Languages in the African American Community

ACTFL National Standards & Guidelines

According to the United States Department of Education’s Educate America Act (Goals 2000), foreign language is now recognized as a core subject. The purpose of Goals 2000 was for selected academic disciplines to delineate national standards for instruction and learning (Leloup & Ponterio 1998). As a result, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) developed the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996) as a means to create a uniform standard for K-12 content knowledge so that foreign language instruction could have a national gauge for excellence.

This document serves as a consensus that defines the role of foreign language instruction in the United States. Since the standards are relatively new, they do not yet reflect a level of attainment by most foreign language students, but rather they are the expectations of learners in foreign languages (ACTFL 1996). The standards detail the information that students should know and be capable of performing in foreign language education. They are organized within five interconnected goal areas called the Five C’s: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities (ACTFL 1996). As defined in the standards, the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996) are said to be the “what, while the K-12 Learner Performance Guidelines (1998) are said to be the how of foreign language learning (p. 1).”

According to the standards, Communication refers to the exchange of information either orally, or through reading or writing. Through the study of foreign language, students are expected to master the Cultural context in which the language occurs. Since language and culture are inextricably linked, educators should strive to incorporate culture into instruction in order for students to contextualize language. Next, the goal of Connections is for students to strengthen their knowledge of other disciplines through the study of foreign language. As students are learning the language and culture of the foreign language, the goal of Comparisons examines likenesses and differences between the target language and their own. The goal of Communities is for students to be able to use the language within and beyond the classroom setting. The Five C’s together will enable students to participate in multilingual communities here in the United States and abroad. Using the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996) as its foundation, ACTFL developed the K-12 Learner Performance Guidelines (1998) as a means to measure students’ content knowledge. According to ACTFL, communication is the heart of foreign language study. While the other four C’s are crucial to foreign language development, communication is the present organizing principle for foreign language study (ACTFL 1996).

Emphasis is given to communication because of the growing need for communicative competence in our society. Learning to communicate at the level of a native speaker is the ultimate goal of the foreign language program (ACTFL 1996). Communication could be represented in a variety of ways, not just verbally. Other means include interpersonal communication, writing for a variety of purposes, reading, and the study of literature.

In order for the K-12 Learner Performance Guidelines (1998) to measure how well students maintain communication, ACTFL has divided this guideline into the following modes: Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational. The Interpersonal Mode is how students engage in conversation and self-expression. The Interpretive Mode is the manner in which students comprehend and interpret written and spoken language. The Presentational Mode is how a student presents information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers (ACTFL 1998).

Teachers can measure oral proficiency based on the levels ranging from Novice, to Intermediate, to Pre-advanced (ACTFL 1998). The progression from level to level is dependent upon the student’s degree of comprehensibility, comprehension, language control, vocabulary use, communication strategies, and cultural awareness. The guidelines were also developed to help foreign language educators measure how well students demonstrate language ability at various points along the K-12 foreign language continuum.

ACTFL 2005 in Baltimore, MD.

Additional Information

  • For additional information on the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning or the ACTFL Proficiency Guildelines visit the AAL Booklist & the ACTFL website.
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