Six Steps to Reinvigorate Language Learning

David Young, CEO, VIF International Education
Over the past two decades, the emergence of dual language immersion (DLI) programs as an accepted best practice for developing advanced second language proficiency has provided the industry with a proven K-12 model that is serving as an exemplar nationwide. It’s well documented that learning a second language positively impacts a student’s growth from cognitive development to executive function to (ultimately) achievement scores.
As effective and popular as DLI programs are, access is limited. It’s just not a scalable solution. What then is the solution to equitably equipping all students for an increasingly diverse and multilingual world?
The answer is already in place: the existing infrastructure of world language programs in schools around the country.
If we stop thinking about language solely as a subject and embrace it as a tool through which students can build global competence, we move from a landscape with very little global education offerings to one with opportunity in every middle and high school in the nation. Rather than trying to jam new global courses into an already crowded curriculum, we can work with the language courses and teachers already in place. By supporting existing and new world language teachers with targeted professional development, we can help them to reach more students and support more language use in the classroom.
Call it the reinvigoration of traditional world language programs. It would reenergize the way we support world language teachers while simultaneously engaging the 21st century student.
How to start? At VIF International Education (VIF), we start with teachers because without engaged and educated teachers you won’t have engaged and educated students. Our teachers receive three key supports:

  1. Professional Development. All educators take professional development courses, but the opportunities for world language teachers to engage in PD specific to their needs is slim to none. VIF PD is flexible, time efficient and targeted to enhance the skills and teaching of world languages.
  2. Ready-To-Use Curriculum. All educators should have access to ready-to-use curriculum. We need to provide world language teachers with quality, contemporary resources that allow kids a learning experience that students who study abroad, for example, have access too. Authentic, age-appropriate resources should be the standard that all world language teachers are accustomed to.
  3. Community. No matter what profession you are in, you always benefit from the support and learning of those in your area of expertise. The same can be said for world language teachers. They should have the opportunity to interact in an online community with educators from across the country to share best practices and lessons on what is effective in their classroom.

While teachers need more support, students need to understand why language learning is important, more so now than ever before. In an ever increasing global society, graduates of our schools will sell to the world, buy from the world, work for international companies, compete with people from other countries, manage employees from other cultures, collaborate with people all over the world and solve global problems.
That is why it’s imperative that we focus on language learning as a means to global education, not just as an individual subject. Equipping students with specific hard skills to compete in a global job market is important, but cultivating their abilities to effectively share ideas and communicate across cultures is critical.
There are three instructional keys to help students build these skills in new language classes:

  1. Global Content. With global content, students gain insights into the linguistic and cultural lives of the languages they are studying while investigating issues across global themes. It provides an invaluable opportunity for learners to build their language proficiency while also interacting with a diversity of materials that show how the target language is used in real-life contexts.
  2. Project-based Inquiry. PBI promotes critical thinking and analysis skills. This empowers students to take control of their learning, helping them develop the habit of lifelong, self-directed learning that is critical for long-term language skill success.
  3. Flipped Learning. This pedagogy combines both global content and project-based inquiry as students are invited to read about global issues at home in English and then come to class ready for an inquiry-based approach to the study of the target language.

Implementing the six keys to a reinvigorated world language course provides teachers and students with an environment where both language learning and global understanding can be built. And it can happen with the infrastructure already in place. This isn’t a vision of the future of education. This is a call for delivering to students the education they need today.
This post is part of a blog series on global education and equitable preparation in the classroom produced in partnership with VIF International Education (@vifglobaled). Join the conversation on Twitter using #globaled. For more, check out (Global Education and Equitable Preparation), and:

David Young is the CEO of VIF International Education. Follow David on Twitter, @dyvif

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Chelsea Murphy

Really great and informative article! I fully agree that it’s imperative that we focus on language learning as a means to global education, not just as an individual subject. Equipping students with hard skills and important "soft skills," which term I don't love, more social emotional and interpersonal skills like communication, listening, critical thinking, etc are critical to equip students who can effectively share ideas and communicate across cultures. One great tool teachers can use is pre-made common core aligned current event lessons from Listen Current- This is an awesome free product that curates real world stories and uses current events to spark students interests in global issues, with built in interactive transcripts and instructional strategies and supports for English Learners.

Chelsea Murphy

As a follow up- Listen Current has rebranded to Listenwise, so you can find their collection of curated public radio stories lessons at

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