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Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools

Learn more about the Foreign Language Survey and read an executive summary of the survey report.

Resource Corner

Strategies for Building U.S. Foreign Language Capacity

Building the Foreign Language Capacity We Need

Learn more.

Informational Brochures
Download these free resources on how to advocate for language learning.

Browse our online directories and databases including the Foreign Language Assessment Directory.

CAL Digests
Browse our collection of free downloadable digests including digests related to foreign language instruction:

Language, Diversity, and Learning: Lessons for Education in the 21st Century NEW

Foreign Language Immersion Programs: Features and Trends Over 35 Years

Attaining High Levels of Proficiency: Challenges for Foreign Language Education in the United States

Raising Bilingual Children: Common Parental Concerns and Current Research

La crianza de niños bilingües


About CAL

CAL Board of Trustees Statement on the National K–12 Foreign Language Survey

November 2010

In the increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century, Americans must be able to communicate effectively in English and other world languages. Yet while countries around the world are implementing language programs that position their students to become multilingual world citizens, results of a recent national report by the Center for Applied Linguistics (Rhodes & Pufahl, 2010) reveal that opportunities for U.S. students to learn a foreign language have declined:

  • Foreign language education has decreased dramatically at the elementary and middle school levels over the past decade, erasing gains made in previous decades.
  • Public schools are less likely to offer foreign language instruction than private schools. In addition, rural schools and schools with a high percentage of low-income students are less likely to offer foreign languages than urban and suburban schools and schools with more affluent students. Many schools offer no foreign language instruction at all.
  • The vast majority of elementary school foreign language programs do not have a goal of high-level language proficiency for their students.
  • Articulation of language programs from one level to the next is frequently ill-planned or not planned at all.
  • There is an acute shortage of qualified foreign language teachers.

The Board of Trustees of the Center for Applied Linguistics is alarmed by these trends and considers foreign language education in the United States to be in a state of near crisis. Reversing these trends and meeting the need for a language-competent U.S. citizenry will require a comprehensive long-term strategy that makes language learning a national priority. CAL’s Board endorses the report’s recommendations, urging those responsible for education policy and practice to do the following:

  • Emphasize the need for high-quality foreign language education and make foreign language teaching and learning a priority in the K–12 curriculum.
  • Ensure equal access to foreign language instruction for all U.S. students regardless of income, location, or type of school.
  • Encourage and facilitate the establishment of intensive, long-term language programs that enable students to reach a high level of proficiency.
  • Support foreign language teaching that begins in the early grades and continues through high school graduation, with instruction being carefully articulated so that each level builds on learning from the previous level.
  • Work with institutions of higher education to increase the number of certified language teachers and ensure that they are prepared to provide high-quality instruction.

Our nation’s capacity to maintain national security, promote international cooperation, compete effectively in a global economy, and enhance our domestic well-being depends on our ability to communicate in other languages and across cultures. It is time to heed the calls for action by countless organizations, business leaders, government agencies, and individuals to acknowledge the well-documented individual and societal benefits of foreign language learning and to incorporate foreign languages into the core curriculum at every level of education and in every community across the nation.

Rhodes, N. C., & Pufahl, I. (2010). Foreign language teaching in U.S. schools: Results of a national survey. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

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