Main Body

13. World Language and Literacy Learning

Joanne E. O’Toole


World language education in the U.S. has been conceived of in myriad ways since its formal introduction in the 19th century, with more and less attention to students’ literacy development along the way. This chapter provides an overview of the shifts within the field historically and into the current time, explains why these shifts occurred, and identifies their impact on literacy development in the secondary world language classroom. It also delves into recent influences on the field of English language literacy education that have informed and influenced world language education, and it models how current standards-based world language educational practices can and do promote secondary students’ literacy development.

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, readers will be able to

  • identify methods and approaches to world language education over time and their attention to literacy development;
  • discover multiple ways that literacy is embedded into current concepts, practices, and guiding documents of world language education;
  • design standards-based instruction for the world language classroom that promotes secondary students’ literacy development.


Whether the field is referred to as world language, modern language, foreign language, language other than English (LOTE), or second language education, each of its many labels showcases the same word: language. If you ask middle- and high-school students in this field what they want to be able to do with the new language they are learning, they will likely respond that they want to be able to speak it. Invisible in these labels and the minds of most world language students are additional concepts of literacy. In today’s world language classroom, literacy refers to the capacity to communicate, or perform, in the interconnected ways and for the varied purposes that real-world contexts demand through listening, reading, viewing, writing, and speaking. Those real-world contexts—for world language learners—typically embody the perspectives of the culture studied, thus adding an additional layer of complexity to the task of becoming literate in the new language. This definition of literacy is at the heart of the current learning standards, the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project [NSFLEP], 2015), that will be discussed more fully later in this chapter. Note that this definition of literacy, as well as some other definitions used in this chapter, vary slightly from those stated in Chapter 1 of this textbook, since world language education is a distinct field with its own unique, yet related, definitions.

The view of literacy in the world language classroom defined above is relatively new. This chapter provides an overview of how world language educators have thought about literacy over time, how early literacy practices in world language education align to the current definition, and what events and influences have led to the current definition and related practices. The chapter also identifies multiple ways in which literacy is addressed in current concepts and practices of world language education, and it includes teaching strategies for promoting standards-based literacy development within the secondary world language classroom.

Historical Perspectives on World Language Education and Literacy

Eight major methods and approaches to world language education have been implemented in the U.S. since the 19th century. A method is a fixed set of procedures that teachers and students must follow, while an approach is more flexible in practice (Omaggio Hadley, 2001). Each of these eight methods and approaches is described below and represented in Table 1 to the extent that its attention to literacy is made visible. The purpose for this section is to show the reader how literacy has been addressed in varying ways and to varying degrees in the world language education classroom over time. The methods and approaches are presented in the order they were introduced. As they are all still used to some degree in the U.S. and elsewhere, they are written about in the present tense.


Table 1. Literacy Elements of Methods and Approaches to World Language Education
Method a Reading Listening Viewing Speaking Writing Real-world Purposes Integrated Communi­ca­tion
Reading Approach
Cognitive Code variable
Affective-Humanistic variable variable variable
Input: TPR
Input: TPRS variable variable
Com­mu­ni­ca­tive Language Teaching
Note. TPR = Total Physical Response; TPRS = Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. Variable = the indicated skill area may or may not be addressed by the particular method or approach.
a Methods are from a variety of sources related to historical perspectives described within this chapter.

Nineteenth to 20th Century: First Methods and Approaches

Grammar-translation method

Although humans have learned languages of other lands and peoples for millennia, formal world language education traces its roots to the Renaissance and the teaching of Latin and Greek. In the 19th century, the method used to teach these two classical languages took on a new name and a new role. The Grammar-Translation Method, as it is now known, was adopted for use in the teaching of modern world languages. What gives the method its name is its attention to the memorization of grammar rules and the line-by-line translation of authentic target language literary texts into the native language. The word authentic means that the literature was written by native speakers for native speakers of the language in which it was written. Target language refers to the language being studied, while native language is the first or home language of the students (Shrum & Glisan, 2010).

Grammar-Translation focuses on print literacy as students closely read texts and then write translations and answers to comprehension questions and grammar exercises. The close way in which the literature is read and translated can be particularly effective in helping advanced students understand precise meanings (Horwitz, 2008), and reading authentic literature can deepen students’ understandings of the perspectives of the target culture. Target culture refers to the culture associated with the language, and in this case, literature being studied.

Although Grammar-Translation had a significant impact on how modern world language education practices were established, it limits what students learn to do with the target language. As a result, alternative methods and approaches began to appear in the early 20th century.

Direct method

The Direct Method—unlike Grammar-Translation—exclusively engages students with the target language with an emphasis on oral language. Students listen to teacher-delivered target language conversations and simultaneously view accompanying gestures and visuals to make meaning of what is being said, to acquire vocabulary, and to determine rules of language. What students discover through listening and viewing is then reinforced as they read texts that contain the same words and concepts. Students apply what they have learned in guided spoken interactions with others. With everyday topics being the focus of both oral and written texts, the Direct Method is intended to prepare students for real-world communication.

Reading approach

The Reading Approach emerged to fill a gap when there were too few U.S. teachers proficient enough in the target language to deliver the conversational instruction required by the Direct Method (Celce-Murcia, 2001). This approach returned to the text-based study of language without specific requirements for target- or native-language use by the teacher or students. As the name implies, the Reading Approach has a singular focus: for students to be able to read target language texts. The study of vocabulary and grammar is emphasized only to the degree that it facilitates students’ ability to comprehend increasingly more complex texts. Little to no attention is paid to oral language.

Mid- to Late-20th Century: Theoretically-Based Methods and Approaches

As the 20th century progressed, the field of world language education became increasingly integrated with the fields of psychology and linguistics. Psychology is the study of the human mind and behaviors, and linguistics is the study of language and its structure. These were appealing partners as they provided systematic ways to think about language learning, and relatedly, language teaching. As a result, methods and approaches to world language education introduced in the mid- to late-20th century were built on theories, research, and principles from these and other closely related fields.

Audiolingual method

The Audiolingual Method introduced in the mid-20th century is based on two key assumptions: 1) learning a second language is similar to learning a first language, which is based on a theory of linguistics, and 2) language learning is habit formation, which is based on a theory from behaviorist psychology. In line with these ideas, the Audiolingual Method prescribes strict procedures that begin with students listening to a target language dialogue and orally imitating what they hear. Oral repetition and drills of dialogue content are used to help students build the “habit” of spoken language. Reading and writing are introduced later to reinforce concepts initially learned through oral language. Although students engage in listening, speaking, reading, and writing, the Audiolingual Method does not prepare students for communication in real-world contexts.

Cognitive code method

The Cognitive Code Method was developed as a response to the limitations of the Audiolingual Method and incorporated newer theories of linguistics and cognitive psychology. Cognitive Code starts with what students already know about language and then gradually builds their capacity to speak, listen, read, and write in the target language from the starting point of that prior knowledge. During this process, students are expected to generate their own meanings, acquire the rules for language use, build communicative competence, and be able to perform in the target language. In cognitive psychology, rule acquisition is the subconscious process of “picking up” how language works, competence refers to a learner’s instinctive knowledge of the language system, and performance is the learner’s ability to produce the language (Shrum & Glisan, 2010).

Affective-humanistic approaches

From the 1970s to 1980s, humanistic psychology influenced world language education by introducing a variety of approaches that primarily plan for comfortable, low-anxiety learning environments. For example, the Community Language Learning approach borrowed techniques from the field of counseling to build students’ confidence to speak the target language, first with the teacher, and then with other students. Although the Affective-Humanistic approaches are varied in their influences and strategies, what they share is the focus on building students’ comfort and confidence more than any particular literacy skills.

Input methods

Input—or Comprehension-basedmethods were introduced at around the same time as Affective-Humanistic approaches. Input methods are based on understandings from linguistics and cognitive psychology that children require time and large quantities of comprehensible input to acquire a language. Input in this context refers to the language children hear. A well-known Input method known as Total Physical Response (TPR) requires students to respond physically rather than verbally as they listen to commands given in the target language. Listening is primary and is considered to be the first literacy-related skill that precedes all others. Speaking then emerges when students feel ready. Limitations of Total Physical Response to promote students’ target language reading and writing motivated the creation of an enhanced Input method in the 1990s, known as Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS). With its increased emphasis on reading, TPRS later came to stand for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.

Communicative language teaching

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which also emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, promotes students’ target language learning through engagement with meaningful tasks, content, or texts that gradually increase in complexity. Tasks refer to target language interactions that simulate or prepare students for real-world activities. Auditory and written target language input is typically authentic in nature and prepares students to engage in contextualized and culturally-appropriate products, such as conversations and role plays. Communicative Language Teaching in particular emphasizes the development of communicative competence, which is the ability to use the words and rules of a language in ways appropriate to the given culture through a set of communication strategies.

Returning to the world language definition of literacy presented at the beginning of this chapter, it is evident that the methods and approaches introduced over the last two centuries have varied in the ways and degrees to which they promoted students’ literacy in the world language classroom. While attention has been paid to greater and lesser extents to the four traditional skill areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, only more recently have methods and approaches become intentional in connecting language learning to real-world purposes, and interconnecting the various skills and modes of communication used to carry out real-world purposes.

Preparations for 21st Century World Language Education and Literacy

Toward the end of the 20th century, the development and publication of language proficiency guidelines and national language learning standards introduced a new and consistent vision for what students should know and be able to do in the world language classroom. The following section of this chapter describes the proficiency guidelines and learning standards and explains how they inform both world language teaching and learning.

Introducing Proficiency

Nearing the end of the 20th century, the field of world language education had developed a number of methods and approaches but was without an “organizing principle” that could create consistency and withstand shifts in theories and philosophies (Omaggio Hadley, 2001, p. 88). It was in 1979 that a U.S. presidential commission on language and international studies determined that proficiency would serve as that organizing principle. Proficiency refers to what a person can and cannot do with language—with an emphasis on its spontaneous and real-world application—across four skill areas of speaking, writing, reading, and listening, which are four key elements of this chapter’s definition of literacy.

In 1982, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) published the first proficiency guidelines for academic purposes, which they developed from existing governmental proficiency guidelines. The current ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 (ACTFL, 2012a) describe reading, writing, speaking, and listening proficiency for five ranges (i.e., Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished) and three sub-levels (low, mid, and high) found within each of the first three ranges. Proficiency guidelines serve to help world language educators plan, instruct, and carry out assessments in ways that both target their students’ current level(s) of proficiency and promote students’ proficiency development irrespective of the method or approach to instruction they use.

Unlike first language literacy instruction that typically takes place at every grade level from kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12), world language instruction has varied implementation from state to state and district to district. As a result, an elementary student in a K-12 world language program may demonstrate the same level of proficiency in one or more areas (e.g., speaking) as a middle or high-school student in a grades 7-12 program. That said, older learners are likely to advance in proficiency more quickly due to their native language literacy and cognitive development (Lightbown & Spada, 2013). Ultimately, proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing is best developed through long sequences of uninterrupted language study and regular and meaningful use of the target language by the teacher and students (ACTFL, 2012a).

With proficiency development not tied to grade or age, it is critical to understand what can realistically be expected in speaking, listening, reading, and writing at the various proficiency ranges. Table 2 summarizes key indicators of the first three ranges of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012.

Notice that the Novice-range user of a language is one whose communication and comprehension is most successful in highly familiar and predictable contexts, using words and memorized expressions. Someone with Intermediate-range proficiency effectively uses sentences and strings of sentences to communicate and comprehend for practical purposes and in familiar contexts. The Advanced-range language user communicates and comprehends in paragraphs in more and less familiar contexts in past, present, and future time frames. The more advanced proficiency ranges—Superior and Distinguished—are not discussed here, as these are not considered to be achievable within the context of a K-12 program (NSFLEP, 2015). Descriptions of the Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced proficiency levels clearly describe target language literacy development. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the differences in how world and home language education programs are implemented prohibit any close comparison between students’ target and native language literacy development.

Proficiency Speaking Writing Reading Listening
Table 2. Partial Summary of American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL, 2012a) Proficiency Guidelines by Range and Skill Area
Novice Range Can produce short messages on highly predictable, everyday topics using isolated and memorized words and phrases. Can produce lists, notes, and simple messages; can complete simple forms and reproduce symbols based on practiced materials and formulaic information using words, phrases, and symbols. Can comprehend short texts with imagery or other clues to meaning on highly predictable and very familiar topics or content using key words, cognates, and formulaic expressions. Can recognize or comprehend simple questions, statements, and high-frequency commands related to highly predictable, everyday topics using key words, aural cognates, and formulaic expressions.
Intermediate Range Can produce personal meaning on familiar topics and daily life using sentences, strings of sentences, and simple questions, mostly in present tense. Can produce simple messages, letters, notes, and requests related to practical and social needs and topics of personal interest using basic vocabulary and structures and loosely-connected sentences. Can comprehend simple texts with predictable patterns of presentation and contextual clues related to highly familiar, everyday contexts and with high frequency vocabulary. Can comprehend simple or routine messages and information related to highly familiar, everyday contexts that are delivered in sentence-length speech, with high frequency vocabulary.
Advanced Range Can participate in conversation to communicate information on a range of familiar topics and deal with unexpected complications of a social situation using description and past, present, and future time frames and paragraph-level speech. Can produce routine correspondence, narratives, descriptions, and summaries using description and elaboration in the past, present, and future time frames at the paragraph-level. Can comprehend the main idea and supporting details of authentic narrative and descriptive texts and the main arguments of uncomplicated persuasive texts on topics of real-world general interest, using contextual clues and knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. Can comprehend main ideas and most supporting details in clear, organized, and connected speech and reports on topics of general interest using real-world knowledge, contextual clues, and knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.

Introducing Learning Standards

The second organizing principle introduced to world language education at the approach of the 21st century was a focus on content learning standards. In 1996, the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project (NSFLEP) published Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century, which is a document that identified five major goal areas—Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities (5Cs)—and 11 learning standards. These learning standards served to further inform the profession regarding what students in world language classrooms should know and be able to do. The standards made a clear statement that world language education should promote students’ ability to communicate in multiple interconnected ways for real-world purposes, which are key ideas found in the definition of literacy presented at the beginning of this chapter. That assertion was accompanied by the idea that vocabulary and grammar are tools for supporting communication, which is a stance that seemed to critique the practices of some existing methods and approaches.

The following is an overview of the five goal areas and 11 learning standards laid out in the initial standards document. As will be discussed later in this chapter, these learning standards were revised and renamed the WorldReadiness Standards for Learning Languages in 2015. The overview below reflects only content that is still accurate and reflective of both the original and revised standards.

Goal area 1: Communication

The first goal area, Communication, is composed of three standards: Interpersonal (1.1), Interpretive (1.2), and Presentational (1.3) Communication. More typically referred to as modes, each encompasses a purpose for communication, directionality of that communication (i.e., one- or two-way), and language skills that can be used to carry it out. The Interpersonal mode—the exchange and negotiation of spontaneous, two-way messages—occurs in speaking (e.g., phone conversation, class discussion) as well as in writing (e.g., text message, note to friend). The Interpretive mode—comprehension and interpretation of oral, print, and visual messages—takes place through listening (e.g., song, lecture), reading (e.g., short story, graffiti written on a wall), and viewing (e.g., music video, photographs). The Presentational mode—the one-way, rehearsed message to a particular audience—is carried out in speaking (e.g., lines in a play, newscast) and writing (e.g., poem, letter to the editor). When the three Communication standards or modes are used in integrated or interconnected ways, they collectively embody all elements of this chapter’s literacy definition. The final portion of this chapter provides specific examples to illustrate the concept of integrated modes of Communication. It is through the three Communication modes and their embedded language skills that the remaining eight standards are intended to be carried out. How speaking, listening, reading, and writing are used across all 11 learning standards is illustrated in Table 3.

Standards Reading Writing Speaking Listening
Table 3. Standards for Foreign Language Learning (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1996) by Skill Area
Goal Area 1: Communication    
1.1 Interpersonal Communication
1.2 Interpretive Communication
1.3 Presentational Communication
Goal Area 2: Cultures    
2.1 Practices of Culture
2.2 Products of Culture
Goal Area 3: Connections
3.1 Making Connections
3.2 Acquiring Information
Goal Area 4: Comparisons    
4.1 Language Comparisons
4.2 Cultural Comparisons
Goal Area 5: Communities    
5.1 School and Community
5.2 Lifelong Learning

Goal area 2: Cultures

The second goal area, Cultures, includes two standards that together promote students’ understanding of the cultural perspectives that underlie target culture practices (2.1) and target culture products (2.2). Perspectives refer to the “meanings, attitudes, values, and ideas” of a given culture, practices are the culture’s “patterns of social interaction,” and products are the culture’s tangible (e.g., literature) and intangible (e.g., laws) outcomes (NSFLEP, 2006, p. 47). It is through the modes of Communication that students can directly access and engage with the “3Ps” of culture, and it is students’ understandings of culture that allow them to deeply carry out the modes of Communication. In other words, the integrated study of language and culture gives students “the powerful key to successful communication: knowing how, when, and why, to say what to whom”  (NSFLEP, 2006, p. 11).

Goal area 3: Connections

The Connections goal area, with two standards, aims to reinforce and advance students’ content knowledge through interdisciplinary learning (3.1) and access to information and viewpoints only available through the target language (3.2). Interdisciplinary learning integrates what students learn in other content areas (e.g., science, mathematics) with the language and culture content of the world language classroom. The acquisition of information and distinct viewpoints is facilitated when students engage with the people (e.g., email exchange, face-to-face conversation) and products (e.g., newspaper article, photographs) of a target culture, engagement that is carried out through the modes of Communication.

Goal area 4: Comparisons

The two standards of the Comparisons goal area encourage students’ contrastive analysis of language (4.1) and culture (4.2). By learning and reflecting on the words, sounds, structure, and other characteristics of the target language, students can become more aware of their native language and language systems in general. By comparing the practices, products, and perspectives of the target culture with their home culture, students can become more aware of their own culture and the nature of cultures in general. Language comparisons are inextricably linked to literacy practices as it is only through literacy practices that students carry them out. Cross-cultural comparisons are facilitated when students engage in the comparison using one or more of the modes of Communication.

Goal area 5: Communities

The final goal area, Communities, also includes two standards. The first calls for students to use the target language within and outside of the school setting (5.1), and the second for its use for personal benefit (5.2). Essentially, the Communities standards motivate students to employ all Communication modes widely in their daily lives.

The Standards for Foreign Language Learning did not push aside the first organizing principle of proficiency. Rather, the standards and concepts of proficiency work hand in hand. The skill areas of speaking, writing, reading, and listening found in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 are embedded within the three modes of Communication and serve as a means to measure students’ communicative performances. With Communication as the vehicle for achieving all the standards, students are continuously developing not only their proficiency but also their literacy.

A New Standards Era and World Languages

The beginning of the 21st century brought changes to the educational landscape that seemed to overlook the role of world language education. This section of the chapter discusses what these changes were and how world language education leadership was proactive in making the work of the field visible, particularly in relationship to its focus on literacy development.

Common Core and World Languages

A new era in the educational standards movement began when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers published the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects (CCSS; National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers [NGA & CCSSO], 2010). Assertions about what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college shaped the initial College- and Career-Readiness Anchor Standards and the subsequent K-12 standards. Acknowledgement that students’ college- and career-readiness relied on their ability to enact literacies in a digital age meant that research and media literacy skills were blended into the four major skill-based strands of the new standards. Despite organizing around strands of Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language, the Common Core ELA Standards are described as “an integrated model of literacy” in which all processes of communication are connected (NGA & CCSSO, 2010, p. 4). To a large extent, the skill integration and connected processes of communication mirror the recently-forged relationship in world language education between the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and the Standards for Foreign Language Learning. Yet, the Common Core ELA Standards document did not explicitly name or identify the place of world languages among the disciplines to which it said the standards applied. In response, ACTFL crafted the Alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with Common Core State Standards (ACTFL, 2012b), to make visible the strong alignment of the Standards for Foreign Language Learning to the Common Core ELA Standards, to perhaps claim its place relative to literacy development, as well as to assert an important difference. ACTFL illustrated the alignment of the four skills and three modes of Communication and noted similarities in expectations regarding a balance of text types and purposes for writing. The difference, ACTFL pointed out, was that world language education must draw on proficiency benchmarks rather than the grade-level benchmarks of the Common Core ELA Standards, thus situating the field with the College- and Career-Readiness Anchor Standards rather than the K-12 standards.

Further Alignments of World Language Education and Literacy

More than a decade into the 21st century, world language education continues to follow the trajectory of aligning itself closer and more explicitly to the field of literacy education. Two major initiatives provide evidence of this. First, a multi-year study of the first decade of the Standards for Foreign Languages (Phillips & Abbott, 2011) resulted in the decision to revise the standards to more closely reflect the current educational landscape. The resulting World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages were published in 2015. These new standards retained the structure of the original five Goal areas and 11 standards, while providing greater specificity in regard to literacy development and real-world applications, as represented in the Common Core ELA Standards, College- and Career-Readiness Anchor Standards, and 21st Century Skills (NSFLEP, 2013; see Table 4).

Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996)a

World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (2015)b

Table 4. Past and Present World Language Learning Standards Comparison
1. COMMUNICATION: Communicate in languages other than English 1. COMMUNICATION: Communicate effectively in more than one language in order to function in a variety of situations and for multiple purposes
1.1 Interpersonal Communication. Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions. Interpersonal Communication. Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions.
1.2 Interpretive Communication. Students understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics. Interpretive Communication. Learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed on a variety of topics.
1.3 Presentational Communication. Students present information, concepts, and ideas to an audience of listeners or readers on a variety of topics. Presentational Communication. Learners present information, concepts, and ideas to inform, explain, persuade, and narrate on a variety of topics using appropriate media and adapting to various audiences of listeners, readers, or viewers.
2. CULTURES: Gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures 2. CULTURES: Interact with cultural competence and understanding
2.1 Practices of Culture. Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the culture studied. Relating Cultural Practices to Perspectives. Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the cultures studied.
2.2 Products of Culture. Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the products and perspectives of the culture studied. Relating Cultural Products to Perspectives. Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products and perspectives of the cultures studied.
3. CONNECTIONS: Connect with other disciplines and acquire information 3. CONNECTIONS: Connect with other disciplines and acquire information and diverse perspectives in order to use the language to function in academic and career-related situations
3.1 Making Connections. Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language. Making Connections. Learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using the language to develop critical thinking and to solve problems creatively.
3.2 Acquiring Information. Students acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures. Acquiring Information and Diverse Perspectives. Learners access and evaluate information and diverse perspectives that are available through the language and its cultures.
4. COMPARISONS: Develop insight into the nature of language and culture 4. COMPARISONS: Develop insights into the nature of language and culture in order to interact with cultural competence
4.1 Language Comparisons. Students demonstrate understanding of the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own. Language Comparisons. Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the nature of language through comparisons of the language studied and their own.
4.2 Cultural Comparisons. Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own. Cultural Comparisons. Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the concept of culture through comparisons of the cultures studied and their own.
5. COMMUNITIES: Participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world 5. COMMUNITIES: Communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world
5.1 School and Community. Students use the language both within and beyond the school setting. School and Global Communities. Learners use the language both within and beyond the classroom to interact and collaborate in their community and the globalized world.
5.2 Lifelong Learning. Students show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment. Lifelong Learning. Learners set goals and reflect on their progress in using languages for enjoyment, enrichment, and advancement.
Note. a Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996). Adapted from Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (p. 9), by National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1996, Lawrence, KS: Allen Press. Copyright 1996 by Author. Adapted with permission.
b World-readiness standards for learning languages (2015). Adapted from World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (p. 9), by National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2015, Alexandria, VA: Author. Copyright 2015 by Author. Adapted with permission.

Second, a nationwide movement to promote biliteracy, or college- and career-ready proficiency in two languages, has resulted in several state governments’ adoption of the Seal of Biliteracy, which is a designation attached to qualifying students’ high school diplomas and transcripts. After seeing this California-based initiative take hold across the U.S., ACTFL partnered with the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), and TESOL International Association to develop and publish the Guidelines for Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy (2015). In these guidelines, ACTFL et al. propose that consistency of meaning across contexts is key and can only be achieved through proficiency-based implementation. The Seal of Biliteracy Guidelines, therefore, identify the level of proficiency that students should be required to demonstrate across all modes of Communication and suggest acceptable forms of evidence. While world language education seemed to have had little direction or goal orientation regarding literacy development in its early years, the last few decades have brought it closer and more deeply committed to all students’ literacy development.

Standards-Based Planning in the World Language Classroom

Planning for literacy learning in the world language classroom requires understanding the Communication standards individually and in relationship to one another. It means knowing how to select or design tasks appropriate to the mode of Communication and students’ proficiency levels. It means planning for students’ deep and meaningful learning and performances. This final portion of the chapter breaks down and explains these concepts with illustrations and examples at two levels of proficiency.

Planning for Integrated Modes of Communication

As defined earlier in this chapter, literacy in the world language classroom involves the capacity to communicate in interconnected or integrated ways. What must be integrated are the three modes of Communication, which as discussed earlier, include Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational Communication. To understand this idea, it is helpful to think of these three modes as interconnected cogs on a wheel. When one is engaged, it sets the others into motion. Any cog can turn first, engaging those beside it. To plan for students’ integrated Communication, the teacher starts by selecting the mode most appropriate for the instructional goal, text, or task and then plans for the mode that allows students to elaborate on what they have learned. Texts are works that are interpreted through listening, reading, or viewing. Tasks refer to communicative endeavors that students are expected to carry out. For example, students might listen to a target language song (text) about the environment and write down words they think contribute to the song’s message (Interpretive mode task). Students subsequently have a conversation in small groups to try to persuade others of the song’s message by sharing the evidence they collected (Interpersonal mode task). Once small groups have selected what they believe to be the song’s message, they create a written and illustrated poster to present the message to others (Presentational mode task). Despite this well-ordered example that moves students across all three modes of Communication, it is not always necessary to plan for each of the three modes’ successive use before returning to a given mode. For example, the teacher in this case might want to build students’ background knowledge about environmental issues in the country from which the song came by showing students a video prior to having them listen to the song. In other words, this might be a case where engaging students with interpreting two texts first might better build their capacity to carry out the related Interpersonal and Presentational tasks.

Planning with Proficiency in Mind

As seen in the summary of the ACTFL Proficiency Descriptors 2012 in Table 2, what students can be expected to do with the target language is directly related to their proficiency level. Therefore, both text and task selection should take proficiency into account. A document that can simplify teachers’ proficiency-based planning across modes of Communication is the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements (NCSFFL-ACTFL, 2013). Concise first-person statements or benchmarks of performance are presented for all proficiency sub-levels for Interpersonal Communication, Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing, Interpretive Listening, and Interpretive Reading (pp. 4-5). Using the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, it can be seen that the text and tasks described in the previous section would be particularly appropriate for Novice High level learners, which would be students in perhaps the third year of a typical 7-12 language program. The Novice High benchmark for Interpretive Listening states, “I can often understand words, phrases, and simple sentences related to everyday life. I can recognize pieces of information and sometimes understand the main topic of what is being said” (p. 4). This benchmark is clearly reflected in the Interpretive task of listening to a song to extract key words with the goal of identifying its message. The Novice High benchmark for Interpersonal Speaking states, “I can communicate and exchange information about familiar topics using phrases and simple sentences, sometimes supported by memorized language (p. 4). This is visible when students use information collected from the song to try to persuade others of its message. Finally, the Novice High benchmark for Presentational Writing states, “I can write short messages…on familiar topics related to everyday life” (p. 4). These short messages are made evident in the writing and illustration on posters that students create.

Aligning with the Common Core

As previously discussed in this chapter, integrated literacy is not only the intention and domain of the WorldReadiness Standards for Learning Languages but also of the Common Core ELA Standards. As each mode of Communication in the WorldReadiness Standards for Learning Languages embodies more than one language skill, and the Common Core ELA Standards are organized by language skill, alignment requires a two-step task analysis that begins with identifying the language skill and then the purpose for which that language skill is to be used. Using the examples from above, when students listen to a song for the purpose of interpreting its message through evidence (Interpretive Communication), they also address Common Core Speaking and Listening (SL) Anchor Standard 3: “Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric” (NGA & CCSSO, 2010, p. 48). When students have a conversation in small groups to try to persuade others using evidence (Interpersonal Communication), they additionally address elements of Common Core Speaking and Listening (SL) Anchor Standard 1: “Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively” (p. 48). When students create a written and illustrated poster that presents a message (Presentational Communication), they simultaneously address elements of Common Core Writing (W) Anchor Standard 2: “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content” (p. 41). As previously explained, proficiency levels rather than grade levels must serve as benchmarks in the field of world language education. Additional examples of integrated modes of communication and literacy aligned to both sets of standards and at two proficiency levels can be found in Table 5.

Novice Range: Geography and Weather Intermediate Range: Short Story as Core Text
Table 5. Integrated Modes of Communication and Common Core State Standards (NGA & CCSSO, 2010) Alignment Through Texts and Tasks

Mode: Interpretive (Reading)

Text: On-line TL weather reports for select cities in various TL-speaking countries

Task: Read weather reports and draw related weather icons onto map of countries. CCSS ELA Standards: R1, R4, R7

Mode: Presentational (Writing)

Text: Short story title

Task: Based on the title of a short story not yet read, name and describe an imagined main character and sequence of events. CCSS ELA Standard: W3

Mode: Interpersonal (Speaking)

Text: Map of TL-speaking countries with weather icons drawn by student

Task: Referring to the map icons, partners identify the location of their most preferred weather and explain why they prefer it. CCSS ELA Standards: SL1, SL2

Mode: Interpretive (Listening)

Text: Students’ story predictions based on the title of a short story not yet read

Task: Listen to short story predictions and complete a “ballot” for which is most and least likely to occur, most creative, etc. CCSS ELA Standard: SL2

Mode: Presentational (Writing)

Text: Information from on-line TL weather reports and map of TL-speaking countries

Task: Create a digital travel poster to persuade others to visit preferred city for its weather using words or expressions and visuals. CCSS ELA Standards: W1, W6

Mode: Interpersonal (Speaking)

Text: Short story about which predictions were made

Task: Discuss the accuracy of the “ballot” votes by drawing on evidence found in the short story. CCSS ELA Standard: SL3

Note. TL = target language

Planning for Deep Learning

The integrated communicative tasks described above clearly come together to build and reinforce students’ conceptual understandings and their knowledge, capacity, and confidence with multiple elements of target language literacy. Yet, a single pass through the integrated modes of Communication is not sufficient to build depth, and depth matters when the goals are to build students’ proficiency and literacy in the target language. Depth is best accomplished through multiple well-planned passes that allow students to not only explore and expand conceptual understandings and language but also to revisit, re-examine, and reinforce their learning.

Interdisciplinary themes and core texts are two planning approaches that facilitate deep learning. An interdisciplinary theme refers to a unifying concept or topic around which instruction is designed. It can incorporate multiple and varied texts, multiple entry points, and multiple perspectives. A core text is a multi-part text in which each part interconnects with other parts and subsequent parts build on concepts and language from earlier ones (Clementi & Terrill, 2013). One potential model for interdisciplinary thematic planning was proposed by Clementi and Terrill (2013), who suggested that thematic instruction should begin with “the personal level (Knowing Myself), to where the learner lives locally, regionally, nationally (Exploring Communities), and globally (Engaging with the World)” (p. 3). Using this model in a unit on the environment at the Novice High level of proficiency, Knowing Myself might involve students surveying classmates about what they currently do to help the environment in their home and school (Interpersonal), view an on-line video about what young people can do at home and school to help their environment (Interpretive), and write a list of actions to take to better maintain their home and school environment (Presentational). Exploring Communities might involve students reading a U.S. government multilingual webpage with advice on protecting the environment (Interpretive), discuss which of their current and planned environmental behaviors align with the advice (Interpersonal), and create an infographic of environmentally-friendly practices (Presentational). Engaging the World might have students view photographs that reflect environmental issues and solutions in parts of the world where the target language is spoken (Interpretive), interview an environmentalist in the U.S. and in a target language-speaking country via Skype about environmental issues and solutions (Interpersonal), and create a chart to compare environmental issues and/or solutions of the U.S. and the target language-speaking country (Presentational). Note that the preceding examples were written to illustrate the model; therefore, not all tasks or steps within them were made fully visible or were fully described.

Planning for Quality Tasks

It is through the communication tasks students carry out that texts are made meaningful to them. Using an example from above, photographs of environmental issues and solutions, visual texts, might catch students’ attention and fleeting interest; however, tasks such as writing questions about observations from the photographs, interviewing environmentalists, and creating a cross-cultural comparison chart promote students’ deep meaning-making, especially as it relates to the goals of instruction.

Designing a quality task means planning for all students’ active engagement in a given mode of Communication. Active engagement within the context of Communication means that every student is producing or interpreting the target language throughout the duration of the task. Tasks used early in instruction should incorporate sufficient support to allow all students to meaningfully communicate before having fully acquired the necessary vocabulary or grammar. For example, when having the students carry out the task described above of surveying classmates about what they do to help the environment at home and school, the teacher might provide them a survey form that includes the interview question and possible responses in the target language. Other forms of support include sentence starters or fill-ins, interview guides, charts, visual clues, and more. The use of planned supports can bolster students’ early ability and confidence to communicate with new content and/or new language. Over time, and with practice, students should be able to perform similar tasks with less and less external support.

Selecting Task Design

Task design should match the expectations of the given mode of Communication. As Interpersonal Communication requires students to interact and negotiate meaning spontaneously with others orally, in writing, or digitally, interpersonal tasks must be designed to facilitate such interactions. Interviews, surveys, conversations, discussions, peer problem-solving, spontaneous role plays, emails, and texts, are all tasks that, by design, promote Interpersonal Communication.

Interpretive Communication requires students to comprehend, interpret, and analyze what they hear, read, or view in the target language. Comprehension, the first expectation of this standard, refers to students’ literal understandings based on perspectives of their home culture. Tasks well designed to elicit comprehension include, but are not limited to, answering questions; completing sentences, charts, or graphic organizers; showing response cards; manipulating objects or visuals; illustrating; and physically performing actions. Interpretation and analysis, the additional expectations of the Interpretive Communication standard, require students to engage in higher-order thinking and demonstrate understandings of target culture perspectives. Tasks that facilitate these elements include discussion, debate, role play, hypothesizing, predicting, linguistic and cross-cultural analyses, most or all of which may have limited application at the Novice level.

Presentational communication requires students to present information and ideas for various purposes to audiences who may be listening, reading, and/or viewing what they have prepared, edited, and rehearsed in oral, written, and/or digital formats. Presentational task possibilities are endless and are best conceived of in relationship to real-life performances or products related to the interdisciplinary theme, core text, or other organizing principle. For example, returning to the theme of environment, students might write a list of rules, deliver a speech, or record a song or public service announcement about what teens can do to protect the environment.

Assessing Communication

Whether the tasks address Interpersonal, Interpretive, or Presentational Communication, they are all performances. Therefore, the same criteria that informed task design are those that should be used by teachers to assess students’ performances relative to the standards and relative to their given level of proficiency. The first-person nature of the aforementioned NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements global benchmarks (e.g., “I can write short messages…on familiar topics related to everyday life” [p. 4]), also promotes students’ self-assessment, which can lead to increased awareness of their developing proficiency and setting realistic goals. While tasks across the three modes of Communication can be assessed individually, the optimal assessment is actually the one that is complex and looks at students’ performances across all modes of communication. It is the one that takes into account real-life demands that students be able to carry out communication and literacy using all modes and all skills in interconnected ways (Adair-Hauck, Glisan, & Troyan, 2013).


The definition of literacy put forth at the beginning of this chapter states that students of world languages should be able to communicate in the interconnected ways and for the varied purposes that real world contexts demand through listening, reading, viewing, writing, and speaking. Since the inception of modern world language education in the 19th century, there have been ebbs and flows in regard to how well and to what degree methods and approaches to teaching world languages have addressed this definition. The late 20th century introductions of the two organizing principles of proficiency and learning standards formalized expectations for the field and have since provided teachers guidance to design the instruction envisioned in the definition.

Swift and significant changes in the recent educational landscape have largely ignored world language education, which has caused organizations and individuals in the field to make even more explicit the role of world languages in literacy education. With the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) taking the lead, multiple guiding and elucidating documents have been published since 2010 to illustrate and explain to those within and outside of the field the many ways in which world language education is a key partner in students’ literacy development. It is with the guidance of these and previous documents that world language educators themselves have additional support and clarity for selecting texts and designing tasks and assessments that prepare students to enact literacy in the integrated ways that the real world demands.

Questions and Activities

  1. Which methods, approaches, or elements described in this chapter reflect your language learning experiences? What impact did these experiences have on your target language learning and literacy development? What concepts, practices, and documents described in this chapter could have further promoted your language and literacy development?
  2. The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages were written to add clarity regarding what language learners should be able to demonstrate. Analyze the Communication standards in the Table 4 comparison chart to note specific ways in which this new clarity addresses literacy. Look at the standards in the other four goal areas (Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities). In what ways is literacy integrated into these standards as well?
  3. Visit the website and engage in further reading on the Seal of Biliteracy. Find out if your state has adopted it, and if so, where the implementation stands. What do you see as the advantages to this initiative? Who benefits and why?
  4. Using the Integrated Modes of Communication with Texts and Tasks model (Table 5), design a sequence of texts and tasks for the Novice and Intermediate ranges of proficiency for the target language you may be preparing to teach or that you studied. Consult relevant guiding documents such as the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements and align your sequences to the Common Core ELA Standards.


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