Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 27, 2020

Considering Teaching Languages

Considering Teaching Languages? Now Is an Amazing Time to Be a Language Teacher!

By Dr. Nicole Sherf

Teaching World Languages is not only fun, it is also becoming more and more necessary! The Boston Globe reported in 2017 that the need for bilingual workers had almost tripled between 2010 and 2015 and that need is only going to increase as reported by the American Council on the Teaching of Languages (ACTFL). Language learning is not only important for students of international business and international politics; any type of business, service, or community-based profession now routinely has job opportunities that prefer or require applicants who can engage with people who communicate better in languages other than English. Language teachers are on the forefront of this surge in jobs for multilingual workers, giving students from as early as elementary and middle school through high school the building blocks they need to develop working proficiency in other languages.

According to teacher recruiting agency Carney, Sandoe & Associates, “Foreign languages have been and continue to be a high-demand area. As the world becomes more and more globalized, schools have continued to recognize the need to give their students the language skills to thrive across cultures and countries.” ( But the strong job market for language teachers is only one reason that it’s a great time to be a language teacher. The other is the way that language teaching is changing to be more dynamic and interactive.

Across the nation, the language teaching profession is undergoing an exciting shift to teaching for proficiency. The historical way of language teaching was centered on coverage of vocabulary and grammar as organized in a textbook. It involved a ton of memorization and usually resulted in students saying “I took X number of years of a language and I still can’t say a word!” The proficiency shift involves teaching language for functional use in contexts that will be necessary for interaction in the target culture. In other words, the new focus on teaching languages is for communication and interaction, and especially in the skill of speaking.

Proficiency-oriented teaching involves helping students to develop communicative strategies and working through interpretive, interactive and presentational tasks. The historic model of world language teaching could be compared to trying to teach soccer in a classroom with a blackboard, students in desks and discussions about the rules and the types of things that need to be done to play soccer. The Proficiency Model is like taking that soccer class outside to the soccer field to kick the ball around, see what it takes to get the ball to go to other people and into the net, and then practice and play games with other players and other teams. It is a lot more fun and interesting for students and teachers alike! Additionally, in this new model, world language department members need to work together to build proficiency in their students over the years of programming. Obviously, the more time a student spends in proficiency-oriented programming the higher the levels of ability to interact and use their language in their careers and for personal enjoyment and travel.

Inspired by the momentum of proficiency-oriented teaching, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has hired a World Language Content Specialist for the first time in decades. Additionally, teacher leaders from across the state are collaborating under the direction of DESE to update the World Language Framework which was last published way back in 1999 and is woefully out-of-date. It will be geared to fostering proficiency development in districts and will be supplemented with resources and support for teachers. This, along with the Seal of Biliteracy implementation across the state (read the accompanying article) is giving new direction and energy to teaching world languages in the state. ACTFL has a great poster describing the proficiency levels needed to engage with others for a variety of careers that we should now be sharing with our students.

There is so much research that shows that the benefits of being bilingual extend to improving academic performance, improving test scores and cognitive reasoning, staving off Alzheimer’s, among many other benefits. But for me, it is the possibility of true two-way engagement with others in a whole different culture that is most beneficial. I think that people who speak more than one language are more open to new ideas, more understanding and more compassionate, especially of those who are different.

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