Foreign language standards are the definition and description of foreign language education content standards or what students should know and be able to do in the foreign language they are studying. In the United States, national standards include five goal areas: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. A task force of 11 representatives worked from 1993 to 1996 to develop a standardized guide for best instructional practice in the foreign language classroom that also establishes student benchmarks. In addition to a published set of national foreign language standards, U.S. states and individual counties and cities may develop their own standards.
A coalition of national language organizations received funding to develop foreign language standards in 1993 under the America 2000 education initiative. Eleven representatives of a variety of languages, levels of instruction, and geographic regions were selected to form a task force that shared its work publicly throughout the process. The Standard for Foreign Language Learning was first published in 1996. Although not strictly a curriculum guide, the standards suggest activities that can help students achieve learning goals and support extended sequences of study.
There are five goal areas identified by American foreign language standards: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. While some students learn a foreign language to better understand another culture, others may be seeking a career in government service or another country. The five areas encompass the philosophy that foreign languages offer something to every learner regardless of reason for study. Each goal area is divided into distinct standards or benchmarks for students to achieve.
The communication standard emphasizes interpersonal communication in the form of direct written or oral interaction between individuals. Students begin by learning phrases that allow them to interact with each other right away, usually by introducing themselves. The goal is to communicate in a culturally appropriate way.
When students show an understanding between the practices, products, and perspectives of the culture studied, they have reached the culture goal. This standard lays the foundation for connections, an area that promotes knowledge of other disciplines through foreign language study. Students begin to recognize the specific viewpoints available through foreign language and culture.
Comparisons and communities are the final two goal areas established by foreign language standards. Students compare their native language and culture with what they are studying. Additionally, students move beyond the school setting and use their language skills within the community for personal enrichment and enjoyment. Language learning is thus promoted as a lifelong process.
A sample activity that encompasses many of the foreign language standards would be a newscast. Students work in groups to write and produce a newscast in the target language that includes sports, weather, and live on-the-scene segments. Such an activity could touch on the communication, cultures, connections, and communities standards.
Establishing and adopting foreign language standards can be beneficial to everyone involved in the academic process because the goal is clear and uniform. Teachers know the standards and are able to plan activities that help students achieve them. Students better understand what goals they need to reach, and their parents can track their progress. Finally, administrators can apportion resources and purchase materials based on what is necessary to meet the established standards.