Illinois Learning Standards

Foreign LanguagesChalkboard with different languages for hello

The benefits of effective foreign language instruction focus on the role of the individual in a multilingual, global society. No longer do Americans live in isolation; instead, there is an ever-changing, interdependent world in which diverse cultural and linguistic groups converge. The National Standards for Foreign Language Learning establish the academic, business, personal, recreational and practical benefits of studying foreign languages, and the Illinois Learning Standards for Foreign Languages are based on this rationale. The national document states: "To study another language and culture gives one the powerful key to successful communication: knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom. All the linguistic and social knowledge required for effective human-to-human interaction is encompassed in those ten words. . . . The approach to second language instruction found in today's schools is designed to facilitate genuine interaction with others, whether they are on another continent, across town, or within the neighborhood."

Research studies clearly indicate that studying another language may give students the "edge" needed to succeed at higher levels in some other subjects. A study of over 17,000 students applying for college admission revealed that "students who had completed a foreign language course in high school tended to have higher scores on the ACT exams in English and math regardless of their ability level" (Olsen & Brown 1992). It has also been verified that "high school foreign language students perform significantly better on the SAT verbal exam than non-foreign-language students, and that SAT verbal scores increase successively with each half year of foreign language study" (National Standards).

It is important to consider the special character of the classical languages, Latin and ancient Greek. Although orality may be one common component of instruction in these languages, the main thrust of the curriculum is the comprehension of written language rather than fluency in speaking. This fact must be considered when applying the standards to the classical languages and learning benchmarks found within this document. In addition to reading and writing skills, a social-cultural-historical emphasis may also be an important curricular goal in the classical language classroom.

The standards included in this document are intended to be generic and are not written for any one specific language. Since all languages have differing vocabulary, syntactic structures, sound systems, writing systems and cultures, they offer a different set of greater and lesser challenges to English-speaking students. As a result, users of this document should apply necessary modifications to make them applicable to a specific language.

The five stages are designed to correspond to the students' expected level of progress as they study the language. The Stage One (Beginning) benchmarks need to be mastered first regardless of whether the study begins in elementary school, middle school or high school, with mastery of the other stages following in sequence. In short-term programs (e.g., current 2 - 4 year programs) students may not be able to achieve mastery of the more advanced stages.

Applications of Learning

Through Applications of Learning, students demonstrate and deepen their understanding of basic knowledge and skills. These applied learning skills cross academic disciplines and reinforce the important learning of the disciplines. The ability to use these skills will greatly influence students' success in school, in the workplace and in the community.

Solving Problems

Recognize and investigate problems; formulate and propose solutions supported by reason and evidence.

Learning a foreign language develops the tools for dealing with various types of survival challenges, technical skills and interpersonal exchanges across and among cultures. Students use the process of forming a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, eliminating nonessential information and drawing conclusions, aided by and further developing the four skills which are at the core of communication: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Knowledge of other cultures and world issues helps students temper their communication about the problems they endeavor to solve.


Express and interpret information and ideas.

The four basic skills essential for oral and written communication are enhanced by an understanding of non-verbal gestures, cultural symbols and rituals, global trends, regional varieties of language, and local traditions and contexts. For students of language to contribute to society, they must learn the academic, technical and workplace uses of language and how those realms of knowledge relate to other fields of study. Students learn to communicate for a complete range of purposes including personal, school-based, community, vocational, recreational and professional. In modern languages, curricular designs reflect the importance of students developing simultaneously all four communication skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Using Technology

Use appropriate instruments, electronic equipment, computers and networks to access information, process ideas and communicate results.

Students of foreign languages benefit from access to a wide range of technology helpful in locating primary sources in the target language and interacting directly with native speakers. Students reinforce their knowledge of software, technical skills and vocabulary as they use this technology both within and beyond the foreign language classroom. The use of technology in the foreign language curriculum adds a powerful tool for lifelong learning, advanced research, recreational activities and understanding of global issues.

Working on Teams

Learn and contribute productively as individuals and as members of groups.

Group learning activities at the core of foreign language learning are one component of actual communication in the target language. Students using the target language to engage in group discussions and research projects are already communicating within the classroom. Group learning activities also reflect contexts and processes outside the classroom. For example, students involved in a debate may cover the same issues as presented in a court of law during the French Revolution. Students preparing a group presentation on the Amazon rainforest may cover the same problems as a group of Brazilian engineers and scientists.

Making Connections

Recognize and apply connections of important information and ideas within and among learning areas.

Students of foreign languages make four types of connections throughout their study. First, they learn how to transfer skills and content of the foreign language in ways to better understand skills and content of the first language. Second, students make subject-matter connections, reinforcing content and skills of other areas such as science and fine arts. Third, students explore issues and themes which cross disciplinary lines, and fourth, students use the target language for making connections to vocabulary and processes important in the world