Learning a foreign language has never been more important in today's “global” economy.
The working world is a diverse place, with employees from many different backgrounds and cultures working together to solve problems and provide services.
And in this interdependent world, effective communication skills are necessary for students to become active and productive workers. To meet these communication needs, foreign language teachers use effective teaching strategies to explore different cultures and their languages with high school students.
Foreign language teachers understand the intricacies of language, and how vocabulary is absorbed and leads to language competency. They also understand the best ways to teach students these intricacies, and the difficulties students encounter during language acquisition.
But before potential foreign language teachers are able to teach, they must first prove their knowledge through the certification process.
What is certification?
Teacher certification is proof that an individual is prepared to meet the demanding standards of a career in education. The certification process tests foreign language teachers on their fluency and understanding of a target language, so teachers must adequately prepare to prove their knowledge.
The certification process is different in each state, but most require passing a teacher preparation program and examination. For more information on your state's certification process, find your state on the teaching certification requirement map.
Given the rigorous standards teachers must meet, how exactly should potential foreign language teachers prepare?
Understanding how language works
Foreign language teachers have strong foundations of linguistics, whether teaching Spanish, French, or Chinese. They understand the sound systems of language, and the basic rules of how to form words.
They also understand how people take these words and construct them into complex sentences consisting of phrases, clauses, verbs, nouns, and objects. They're also familiar with the cultural values associated with certain words, phrases, and expressions.
Potential foreign language teachers should also understand systems of language like phonology and written language, and how students best learn in these topic areas.
Foreign language teachers must display proficiency with the languages they wish to teach if they want to pass certification. This includes actively using target languages in formal and informal situations, whether that be at work, in school, at home, or while doing leisure activities.
During the certification exam, potential teachers must listen to audio recordings to determine grammatical errors, pronunciation errors, register errors, false cognates, and use of slang. To pass certification, teachers must have a complete knowledge of these common student errors.
Qualified foreign language teachers must also read prose or poetry out loud fluently, with correct inflection, pronunciation, and attention to sentence structure.
To pass certification, potential teachers should recognize errors and error patterns in spoken language, using speech, grammar, and language analysis to effectively teach their students. When students read prose or poetry out loud, teachers must be able to describe their errors and correct them.
The certification process also tests teachers on their abilities to infer meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases students use while learning the language. They are able to point out the mistakes, correct the students' responses, and show these students how to use the words or phrases in other contexts.
Because language varies in geographic and social ways, teachers should understand the minor differences of a language in a culture. For example, Spanish spoken in Mexico has differences from Spanish spoken in peninsular Spain. Spanish language teachers must note this.
To understand these and other cultural differences, foreign language teachers also teach their students about the history and lifestyles of their target languages.
Understanding foreign culture
In addition to their roles helping students learn new languages, foreign language teachers are experts about life in foreign countries.
To pass certification standards, potential teachers must understand the foods, books, laws, rites of passage, values, and attitudes of the populations of foreign countries. Cultural understanding of a country helps teachers to expand their students' ideas of the world.
Foreign language teachers must display knowledge of daily life in target cultures, comparing them with the culture of the United States, including current events, history, traditions, literature, performing and visual arts, intellectual movements, beliefs and values, and geography.
Comparing another culture to the culture of the students, pointing out similarities and differences, teachers encourage understanding of the two cultures. The certification process shows that teachers understand these differences and similarities, in addition to having the ability to teach them.
The certification process tests teachers on their abilities to integrate culture into language instruction, immersing their students in the country from the classroom. Because of this, potential teachers must keep up with current cultural developments, and should participate in workshops and read recent literature from the country.
Becoming certified in a foreign language
Potential teachers who wish to become certified as foreign language teachers must demonstrate a complete understanding of their target languages. This moves past simple phonics and world construction, and examines the culture behind the language.
Understanding foreign languages is more important today than ever before for students who wish to expand their future career options. If you're interested in helping these students access new opportunities, check your state's teaching certification requirements.
Effective foreign language learning methods
For students introduced to an entirely new language, the process of developing the skills necessary to fluently speak a second language sometimes seems daunting.
In “Learning Strategies in Foreign Language Instruction,” published in The Foreign Language Annals, researchers investigated the strategies used by high school language learners. In the article, authors Anna U. Chamot and Lisa Kupper examined a high school Spanish class's exceptional students to look at effective learning strategies.
Chamot and Kupper found that students either employed “metacognitive,” “cognitive,” or “social and affective” strategies when learning Spanish.
Metacognitive strategies take place when students are aware of their own thinking and learning, and plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning. These strategies typically include inference, where students use context clues in the language to decipher difficult sentences.
Cognitive strategies include vocabulary learning exercises, completing exercises, and working toward task completion. At this stage, students typically have a good hold on the basics of language, and are moving toward metacognitive strategies.
When students mostly interact with the teacher and are confused by solo assignments, they are still using social and affective strategies. These students are typically beginning language learners and still rely on techniques of repetition and translating to memorize new words and phrases.
By pushing students toward metacognitive strategies, teachers ensure their students become effective language learners. Without teachers who understand these learning strategies, students will only encounter more barriers to foreign language acquisition.