Why Study Language?
A Rationale for World Languages in the ISSN
Julia de la Torre
ISSN Curriculum Consultant
Students today live in an age where nations and peoples from around the world are far
more interconnected than at any other point in our collective history. With emerging
technologies bringing the world into our homes and schools, it is now commonplace for
students to interact with individuals from countries once seen as distant and “foreign.” In
order to effectively prepare students for life and success in the 21st century, it is
imperative that we equip them with the language skills, content knowledge, and
leadership qualities needed to carefully navigate this exciting global landscape.
In the recent past, foreign language curricula have focused on building proficiency and on
learning “survival language,” providing students with the vocabulary, structures, and
phrases needed to communicate at a basic level if ever they found themselves traveling in
another country. The emphasis was on learning about “the other” to the degree necessary
in order to check into a hotel or order in a café.
In the 21st century, the needs of our language students have changed dramatically. Instead
of using language simply as a tool for survival in a foreign land, students must embrace it
as a tool for empowerment and collaboration with peers both at home and abroad.
Political boundaries between countries are seemingly more arbitrary to this generation of
learners, as social media put students in direct contact with their global neighbors in new
and more interactive ways. They no longer need to board a plane in order to put their
skills to use.
To meet these changing needs, our students need a deeper and more nuanced
understanding of culture and context, and of how differing values and norms affect
communication, action, and our relationships with the world.
ISSN Schools and the Five C’s
Students in the International Studies Schools Network (ISSN) share a common
commitment to global awareness, academic rigor, and informed action for global change.
In order to meet the demands of the 21st century, ISSN students must be globally
competent and academically prepared for college, and beyond. In the world language
classroom, students have a unique opportunity to develop their skills as global citizens
through the study of language and culture. Not only do world languages facilitate
students’ communication and connection with the world, but they help them make
meaning of their own place in a global context.
The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has articulated a
clear set of standards for world language education, focusing on “The 5 C’s”:
Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.1 ACTFL
recognizes that world languages are no longer just about linguistic proficiency. They
challenge students to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of other cultures and
belief systems. They provide opportunities for students to connect with individuals both
from other communities across the world and right in their own backyards. Students use
language as a tool for building more meaningful relationships with others and reaching
common understandings about our shared human condition. Language education allows
students to actively compare their lives to those of others, while developing a better sense
of the various communities to which they belong.
Benefits of World Language Learning
The ISSN believes that in order to meet the needs of our changing environment, our
world language curriculum must embody these 5 C’s. With exposure to world languages
and opportunities to use them in an authentic setting, students gain invaluable skills that
are transferable to other subject areas and integral to their ability to engage as global
citizens. Through language study, students become resourceful and respond to new
situations and cultural contexts with ease. They can cultivate meaningful relationships
with others based on shared understandings and mutual respect. Through the use of
emerging technologies, world language students can communicate directly and
effectively with real-world partners. Studying other languages allows students to reflect
on how language is structured and how their own language can be used as a tool for
communication, persuasion, and negotiation. Studying other cultures gives students a
deeper appreciation for their home culture and the values that affect their interactions
with others. When learning about others in a collaborative environment, students are
invariably curious and eager to learn more. This intellectual curiosity will lead to new
discoveries in other subject areas as well. Beyond this, the study of world languages
empowers students to make contributions to improve the world around them. By
communicating with others, students can learn about the needs and challenges faced by
their global peers, are able to build their capacity as global citizens, and can find creative
solutions to real-world dilemmas.
As we prepare our ISSN students to be globally competent and college ready, we must
expose them to new languages and cultures, providing them with the skills needed to
interact effectively with the world around them. By focusing classroom instruction on the
5 C’s of world language education, teachers can inspire a new generation of learners to
connect with others, thrive in new settings, and problem solve in collaboration with their
fellow global citizens.
ACTFL. “Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century.” 18
Oct. 2009 <http://actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3324>.