Grant supports research and outreach on foreign language teaching

University Park, Pa. — Government, business and community leaders agree that for the U.S. to remain competitive in a global economy, more Americans must be proficient in foreign languages and be knowledgeable about diverse cultures. Penn State’s Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research (CALPER) in the College of the Liberal Arts has received a new four-year federal grant of more than $1.2 million to continue to develop innovative approaches to language teaching, research and outreach that improves instruction in foreign languages in our nation’s high schools and universities.

''This is the third grant we have received since 2002 to continue the outstanding work being done at CALPER, which promotes cutting-edge language teaching in a wide array of languages other than English,'' said CALPER co-directors Jim Lantolf and Karen E. Johnson, both faculty members in applied linguistics. ''The Liberal Arts faculty who are accomplished researchers in applied linguistics and language acquisition are developing learning materials and tools using the latest technology that teachers can use to help students learn foreign languages more effectively.''

CALPER was established in 2002 as a National Language Resource Center in the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, coordinated by the college’s Center for Language Acquisition. CALPER joins other language resource centers at major public and private universities: University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ohio State University, University of Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana University, UCLA, Duke University, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii, University of Texas at Austin, Brigham Young, University of Oregon, San Diego State University and Georgetown-George Washington Universities.

Over the last eight years, CALPER has supported language educators throughout the U.S. through the following activities:

• Developing innovative teaching materials, particularly for the less commonly taught languages such as Chinese, Korean, Russian and Japanese;

• Expanding language learning assessment procedures;

• Conducting critical research to inform teaching practices in many languages including the more commonly taught languages of Spanish, French and German;

• Creating extensive online professional development resources; and

• Offering intensive institutes and workshops at various sites, including University Park, for language educators from U.S. high schools and colleges and universities.

CALPER Program Coordinator Gabriela Appel, offers a few examples of such projects. One helps teachers use software to determine how well their students are learning a language and how to construct future lessons that address their specific skill level. Several others address ways of developing more advanced levels of proficiency in a foreign language. Yet another project investigates the complex needs of teachers who teach heritage learners (students who speak a language other than English at home) and non-heritage learners in the same classroom.

With the new grant, CALPER faculty will conduct research involving multimedia technology on how native speakers use a language in informal and professional settings, and develop materials that help students develop speaking proficiency, particularly in Chinese and Korean.

''Our CALPER website offers many teaching and professional development resources to foreign language teachers, ranging from multimedia technology and teaching materials to upcoming professional conferences and links to language advocacy information and organizations,'' said Appel. ''Teachers can subscribe for free to our e-mail listserves, which announce new resources, and they can obtain teaching materials for free. For example, there are at least 500 teachers who use CALPER’s Japanese language materials. We work closely with groups such as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the dozens of individual associations of teachers of individual languages. ''

''Rising enrollments in foreign languages, especially the critical languages, call for increasing numbers of qualified foreign language teachers now and for the future,” said Lantolf, the Greer professor of language acquisition and applied linguistics.

"The 15 Language Resource Centers, including CALPER, are providing America’s foreign language teachers with much needed support to improve their students’ language proficiency, which in turn will help the students become truly global citizens," said Johnson, the Kirby professor in language learning and applied linguistics.

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Last Updated November 02, 2010