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On Knowiing a llanguage:: Communiicattiive Compettence,, Prroffiiciiency,, and On Know ng a anguage Commun ca ve Compe ence P o c ency and tthe Sttandarrds fforr Forreiign Language Learrniing he S anda ds o Fo e gn Language Lea n ng

As we enter the new millennium, the language teaching profession continues to experience substantial growth due to the rapid expansion of knowledge that hastaken place in our field in the past few decades. There has been an abundance of creative new approaches, materials, teaching ideas, and technological innovations in recent years, and no lack of stimulating, scholarly debate about how best to use them. Never before in our professional history have we had so many choices; never before has the need for professionalism and critical judgment beenclearer. The struggle to understand, clarify, and articulate one's beliefs and practices is at the very heart of what it means to be a professional.

This book has been written in an attempt to assist teachers, teacher educators, and students interested in classroom language learning in the process of clarifying their own beliefs about language learning and teaching, both in terms of theoreticalissues and practical implications for classroom instruction. Its purpose is, therefore, not to promote a particular theory or methodology; rather, it seeks to review and summarize past and current language acquisition theories, examine various recent trends that have influenced teaching practice, and extract from our rich heritage of resources those elements that seem most relevant to the constructionof viable models for teaching. Consider for a moment the fundamental question: “How can we help students learning a second language in a classroom setting become proficient in that language?” As we explore that question further, at least three subquestions emerge:    What does “proficient” mean? How does one become proficient in a language? What characterizes a classroom environment in whichopportunities to become proficient are maximized?

With each of these subquestions, a new area of inquiry is opened, raising issues that are equally difficult to resolve. Being proficient implies that one knows a language, but to what degree? A given student might know a little German, but not enough to really do anything with it. The student's knowledge of another foreign language, Spanish, willallow him or her to carry on a simple conversation and handle his or her needs as a tourist. But the student wouldn't say that he or she really knows Spanish. The individual certainly does not claim to be proficient in that language.

What does knowing a language involve? How proficient can people become in a language other than their own? Is there a difference between the way people learntheir native language and the way they learn a second one? What does learn mean? Can people become proficient in a second language in a formal classroom environment? Is the age at which a person begins to acquire a language a factor? To what degree or level can a person's competence develop in a second language if he or she begins study as an adult? What should be the goals of instruction? Whatcurriculum and materials should a teacher choose? Should teachers embrace modern technological innovations and incorporate them into their teaching? Will technology make teachers more effective or students better learners?

These are only a few of the many questions that challenge us as language teachers. In this and subsequent chapters, some of the answers that have been proposed in recent years toquestions such as these are explored. Chapter 1 looks at the issue of language proficiency and how that concept might be defined and understood. At the end of the chapter, the Standards for Foreign Language Learning (1996, 1999) are presented and briefly discussed. The Standards outline goals for learning that should help students become proficient users of the language beyond the limits of the...
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