The Ohio New Standards for K-12 World Languages (2012) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL) Standards for Foreign Language Learning (SFLL) in the 21st Century (2006) stress the importance of using the target language in the foreign language classroom. It is only when we provide instruction in the target language, that we model “how, when, and why to say what to whom” (SFLL, 2006). ACTFL recommends that during instruction and at all levels, teachers use the target language exclusively or as much as possible — “90% plus.” Speaking spontaneously and using paragraph length discourse in all time frames requires an Advanced Low (AL) of language proficiency. At the AL of proficiency, learners can initiate and sustain conversations about most informal and some formal topics, can narrate and describe in major time frames, can deal with complications, and are understood without difficulty.
Consequently, if teacher preparation programs want to obtain national recognition from the American (ACTFL) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), teacher candidates must function at a minimum level of Advanced Low (AL) or Intermediate-High (IH) level of proficiency, depending on the language they will teach. Teacher candidates who seek certification in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, must function at a minimum level of AL and candidates who seek certification for Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, must function at a minimum level of IH. A distinction is made between these two language groups, because it takes more time to develop oral proficiency in certain languages, assuming the native language of the speakers is English. Similarly, the State of Ohio requires all teacher candidates seeking world languages certification, regardless of language, must obtain an IH level of proficiency on both the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) and the Writing Proficiency Test (WPT).
How can teacher candidates achieve these rigorous requirements? I believe it will take a village, a team approach, which involves the middle- and high-school teacher, the university language faculty, as well as the university education faculty. We must work together and begin developing language proficiency as soon as possible. Language proficiency takes significant time and practice in the foreign language. We must develop class activities where students go from communicating with memorized material and lists (novice level), to creating original statements with the language by combining and recombining learned elements (intermediate level), and finally to conversing in a clear, participatory fashion using paragraph length discourse in the past, present, and future tense (advanced level). At the middle- and high-school level, teachers can create activities where students begin to practice communicating in real-world situations using spontaneous and non-rehearsed speech. University and education faculty continue to develop functional language ability through real world communicative tasks, require study abroad experiences, and offer experiences outside of class to practice the language even further. All of us play a part in developing future teachers’ language proficiency. Through a team approach and with everyone working together toward a proficiency goal, we can help our students and teacher candidates succeed.