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Looking to the Standards

The national foreign language standards consider the benefits of starting language learning early by looking at the big picture. Here you will find that picture broken down into the underlying principles of the standards and three assumptions about language and culture supporting the principles. Visit our Standards page for more information about the five C's that form the framework for the standards.

The following statement of philosophy was developed by the K-12 Student Standards Task Force and is the foundation for the standards:

"Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience. The United States must educate students who are linguistically and culturally equipped to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least one other language, modern or classical. Children who come to school from non-English backgrounds should also have opportunities to develop further proficiencies in their first language.

Supporting this vision are three assumptions about language and culture, learners of language and culture, and language and culture education:

Competence in more than one language and culture enables people to

  • communicate with other people in other cultures in a variety of settings,
  • look beyond their customary borders,
  • develop insight into their own language and culture,
  • act with greater awareness of self, of other cultures, and their own relationship to those cultures,
  • gain direct access to additional bodies of knowledge, and
  • participate more fully in the global community and marketplace.

All students can be successful language and culture learners, and they

  • must have access to language and culture study that is integrated into the entire school experience,
  • benefit from the development and maintenance of proficiency in more than one language,
  • learn in a variety of ways and settings, and
  • acquire proficiency at varied rates.

Language and culture education is part of the core curriculum, and it

  • is tied to program models that incorporate effective strategies, assessment procedures, and technologies,
  • reflects evolving standards at the national, state, and local levels, and
  • develops and enhances basic communication skills and higher order thinking skills" (7).

The Development of Standards

'In 1993, foreign language education became the seventh and final subject area to receive federal funding to develop national standards for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. (...) Subsequent to the publication of the 1996 standards, the collaboration of the four professional organizations that had sponsored the standards project (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, American Association of Teachers of French, American Association of Teachers of German, and American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese) was expanded to include seven others: American Association of Teachers of Italian, American Classical League, American Council of Teachers of Russian, Chinese Language Association of Secondary-Elementary Schools/Chinese Language Teachers Association, National Council of Secondary Teachers of Japanese/Association of Teachers of Japanese. These groups pursued the next steps in specifying standards by creating language-specific standards that built upon the original ones (12-13)."


"Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century." (1999). New York: The National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project.

Reprinted with permission from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.