December 20, 2019—Our staff had a blast mingling with world language educators and representatives from study abroad and global learning organizations at ACTFL’s 2019 Annual Convention and World Languages Expo last month in Washington, DC.

The annual convention is an opportunity to hear about the state of teaching world languages around the nation, hear about the most current trends in global competency-focused education, and share best practices.

Between the diverse sessions, keynotes, casual conversations, and a few impromptu reunions with AFS Alumni in attendance, we learned a lot—especially from our counterparts in classrooms across the country. Here were our biggest takeaways, boiled down to just a few key points:

1. Seal of Biliteracy initiatives continue to gain momentum nationwide (and that’s a good thing!)

The Seal of Biliteracy celebrates the abilities of secondary students who are proficient in all three modes of communication in English and another language. The Seal provides a credential for students that varies from state to state, but universally, it functions as an acknowledgement of the abilities of the student in the target language.

The Seal also acts as an incentive for students to develop their language skills. According to the Seal’s official website, it “encourages students to pursue biliteracy, honors the skills our students attain, and can be evidence of skills that are attractive to future employers and college admissions offices.”

A current total of 37 U.S. states have active Seal of Biliteracy initiatives, while two have programs under construction and nine are in the early stages of potential Seal of Biliteracy legislation.

As the remaining states continue to discuss guidelines and steps toward implementation, the Seal remains a popular topic at ACTFL, allowing representatives from these states (and their schools) to learn more about assessment options and funding sources for their students who are both English Learners and world language students.

We’re glad to see states emphasize world language proficiency alongside other educational priorities like STEM, since both areas can help develop the 21st century skills needed to succeed in a globalized society and workforce.

The study abroad programs we offer to students can also help a student’s proficiency in the target language through home stay experiences, language courses (or a full course of study in the target language) while ensuring that students are fully armed with the tools to become interculturally competent at the same time. Check out our full listing of study abroad programs that would match with the language that you teach and for your students to identify potential scholarships at the same time.

2. Global competency is a lifelong educational journey

Across the 59 organizations in the AFS network, AFS has an alumni community that exceeds 500,000 members worldwide, so there are bound to be a few teachers amongst the cohort. Lucky for us, we were able to connect with several AFS Alumni attending the ACTFL convention who are now educators.

In a recent global alumni survey, we learned that 87% of alumni, their AFS program helped them become active global citizens. About 90% of respondents indicated that their exchange program helped them better communicate and collaborate with people from different cultures and backgrounds, while 84% said AFS helped them develop the ability to adapt in a diverse workplace environment.

After connecting with him ACTFL, we had an illuminating conversation with one of our own, Pablo Muirhead, PhD, an AFS Alumni (U.S. to Indonesia, 1989-90) who is now an educator passionate about increasing global competency through learning. Though Pablo had exposure to different cultures from a young age, having spent his childhood in Peru and the United States, he credits his AFS experience for helping him develop “a real appreciation for culture and different perspectives.” Later, Pablo continued to pursue his education, travel and live abroad, and learn new languages.

Today, Pablo is an educator with 25 years of experience, and currently serves as a Board Member of Shorewood School District in Milwaukee, WI, and on the Board of Directors at ACTFL.

At this year’s ACTFL convention, he delivered a presentation titled “Striving for Global Competence in Today’s Political Climate,” in which he tied together intercultural competence and language learning. This interwoven learning style is an area that many ACTFL members are still learning how to bridge together in their instructional practices. Pablo advises world language educators and helps them navigate what he calls “the tension between depth and coverage.” Educators often wonder how to enrich their everyday lessons without sacrificing breadth. “The aim is helping push students critical thinking and ability to gain cultural competence beyond just learning the difference between preterit or imperfect,” Pablo says.

While Pablo is just one example of a global citizen, his life and career show the kind of ripple effect that a life of active engagement with different cultures can have.

3. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are getting attention… but not enough

As Pablo explained, a world language curriculum is rarely, if ever, limited to the teaching of a language’s mechanics. Much of what there is to know about a language is tied to its historical and cultural contexts, its nuanced meanings, and its ever-changing colloquialisms. In practice, educators are now basing their curriculum on authentic resources to integrate culture, history and art while infusing their lessons with bite-sized doses of grammar that are embedded within those authentic resources.

Given the multidisciplinary reality of language teaching and learning, it’s not hard to understand why several sessions at the ACTFL convention featured references to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, a series of 17 interconnected objectives established in 2015 to address the world’s most critical and urgent global challenges.

We want to commend the presenters who incorporated the SDGs into the following sessions, and directly touched upon the SDGs as a means of content for world language students:

  • Leading with the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Meaningful Biliteracy
  • Theater of Life: A Project for the Education to a Sustainable Use of Food
  • People, Place, and Time: How Art Reflects Culture – Smithsonian Collections
  • Concept-Based Learning Using Inquiry into UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Dual Language STEM – Tomorrow’s Classroom Today
  • Preparing Dual Language Immersion Teachers for Classroom Realities

Bravo to them! And yet, we wonder: with hundreds of sessions at ACTFL, why not more?

The SDGs allow a world language teacher to infuse all five Cs (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities) while still working with students to look at intercultural competence. Resources are provided in the target language as these are goals developed and supported by the United Nations, so we hope to see more about the SDGs at ACTFL next year. Would you like to present on this topic with AFS-USA next fall?

For our own part, we have tied the SDGs to a student scholarship opportunity called AFS Project: Change. Students develop a volunteer service project based on one of the SDGs, and if they submit their proposal, they could end up with an onsite opportunity to study the SDGs in another country alongside those who are working on that same issue around the globe.

Plus, our Intercultural Workshop winner is… Katie Quackenbush from Boston Latin Academy in Boston, Massachusetts!

As part of an initiative to share our vast array of resources surrounding intercultural learning with world language teachers, AFS-USA encouraged interested educators to enter their school into a drawing for a FREE intercultural competence workshop for their students, their staff/colleagues and/or the parents in their district.

AFS-USA knows the value of building intercultural competency in all individuals regardless of their affiliation. We have historically trained our exchange students, host parents, volunteers and study abroad participants, but we want to share those experiences, activities and skills with everyone to help fulfill our mission of creating a more just and peaceful world.

If your school is interested in this same type of training/workshop, please reach out to Jill Woerner, the Director of Educational Outreach.

Visit our Educators page for classroom resources, lesson plans, and more, including the AFS Project: Change lesson plan and contest, which is aligned with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

 Did you attend the 2019 ACTFL Convention? If so, what was your biggest takeaway? Leave your comments on Twitter.