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‘Global competence’ key to language instruction

Studying foreign cultures prepares students for interconnected world
Foreign language teachers are cultivating global competence in today's classrooms. Above, educators interact at last year’s conference of the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Foreign language teachers are cultivating global competence in today's classrooms. Above, educators interact at last year’s conference of the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Foreign language has become a necessity for “global competence”—the ability to use a language beyond the classroom, in the workforce and in social settings. The idea of global competence encompasses sensitivity, respect and understanding of other cultural perspectives.

Today’s foreign language standards emphasize the five Cs: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons and communities.

Global competence is the theme of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages conference to be held November 21 to 23 in San Antonio, which will feature sessions on ways to strengthen the link between language and culture; strategies for using storytelling to sharpen language skills; and tips for creating global-centric classrooms by studying current events.

“Global competence is an essential component of all students’ academic experience because it is central to one’s preparation to live and be successful in our interconnected world,” says ACTFL President Mary Lynn Redmond, a Wake Forest University professor who will present a session. “Reframing World Language Learning Within Global Competence Models.”

Global competence in foreign language will help prepare students for jobs in everything from business and national security to health and science, she adds.

Authentic learning

Foreign language teachers are cultivating global competence by integrating authentic materials into class—a method facilitated by the wealth of resources available online, says ACTFL Executive Director Marty Abbott.

For example, instead of using McDonald’s menus translated into Spanish, educators can access authentic restaurant menus from countries where the language is spoken, and not just something that is translated from English.

Technology—another theme running through many of the sessions at the conference—also enables teachers to incorporate authentic learning, or, in other words, to teach skills and use materials culled from real life, says Abbott.

Digital storytelling, iPads and Google hangouts are all being integrated into foreign language instruction. One session, for example, highlights Brigham Young University’s efforts to create online connections between native Spanish speakers and second- and third-semester students through videoconferencing. Another session looks at ways to use audio from Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language radio podcast produced in the U.S., to teach Spanish.

“We are trying to get students to see the use and value of language beyond the classroom. That’s a relatively new aspect of language programs,” Abbott says.

Chinese growth

Other leading topics the conference will cover include the spread of Chinese classes and dual-language immersion programs, says Abbott. Although Spanish remains the most commonly taught language, Chinese and Mandarin are growing at the fastest rate across the country, says Abbott.

“If you look at history, we’re always increasing in the language of the country we think is beating us out economically or scientifically,” Abbott says. “In the late 50s, when the Russians launched Sputnik, we poured a lot of money into learning Russian because we thought they were winning the space race. Then, in the 80s, we had a huge surge in Japanese enrollments when the Japanese economy was strong.”

One conference session on Chinese instruction promises to teach “10 effective proficiency-lifting strategies.” These include standard literacy tools such as the RAFT method, in which students analyze texts by considering the role of the writer, the audience being addressed, the formats for writing, and the topic.

Other sessions cover using project-based learning in Chinese instruction and Houston ISD’s partnership with local organizations that allows students to study in Asia.

These sessions all circle back to the main conference theme of global competence, says Redmond.

“The ability to communicate in other languages with deep cultural understanding is vital in our daily lives,” Redmond concludes, “as we interact with speakers from diverse cultures in our own community and abroad, in face-to-face communication or via virtual connections.”

Monica Rhor is a freelance writer in Texas.