Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Less Commonly Taught Language and Commonly Taught Language Students: A Demographic and Academic Comparison

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Less Commonly Taught Language and Commonly Taught Language Students: A Demographic and Academic Comparison

Article excerpt


Efforts to fund the teaching of critical languages, along with increasing enrollments in less commonly taught language (LCTL) classes, have evidenced a renewed interest in LCTL pedagogy. While much is known about enrollment trends, materials development, and professional training, far less research has compared LCTL and commonly taught language (CTL) students. Students from 83 classes (nine different languages) at a large university completed a questionnaire containing items requesting demographic and academic information. The results of a chi-square analysis demonstrated that LCTL learners were older, expected higher grades, reported higher GPAs, found their courses more difficult, and had studied a third language at a much higher rate. Although far from conclusive, these data begin to identify differences that may exist between LCTL and CTL students, specifically in university, introductory-level courses.

Key words: academic questionnaire, 1st-/2nd-year foreign language courses, LCTL/CTL comparisons, student demographics, student self-perceptions

Language: relevant to all languages


Although the teaching of less commonly taught languages (LCTL) has been part of scholarly dialogue in the field of foreign language pedagogy for several decades, the recent governmental focus on funding the teaching and learning of critical languages has once again brought to the pedagogical forefront many languages considered LCTLs in academe. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the David L. Boren National Security Education Act (retrieved June 30, 2008, from http://www.ndu. edu/nsep/index.cfm?pageID=168&type=page), which required the Secretary of Defense to establish the National Security Education Program as a means to offer scholarships and incentives for students to study languages from geographical regions deemed crucial to national security. More recently, in 2006, President George W. Bush proposed the National Security Language Initiative and requested $114 million as part of his 2007 budget to fund the teaching and learning of "critical need foreign languages." The initiative does not provide an exhaustive list of targeted languages but does mention Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi, "and others," many of which have also been classified as LCTLs by academics. The rationale offered for this abrupt spike in educational spending for language learning has been articulated in the following manner on the Department of State's Web site:

An essential component of U.S. national security in the post-9/1 1 world is the ability to engage foreign governments and peoples, especially in critical regions, to encourage reform, promote understanding, convey respect for other cultures and provide an opportunity to learn more about our country and its citizens. To do this, we must be able to communicate in other languages, a challenge for which we are unprepared. (Powell & Lowenkron, 2006, n.p.; emphasis added)

For centuries, major international events and, unfortunately, conflicts have exerted tremendous influence on national language policy and planning. In the 20th century alone, such events as World War II, the launching of Sputnik by the Russians accompanied by the subsequent passing of the National Defense Education Act, and the arrival of several waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants notably influenced language teaching policy and funding. In most cases, these events have brought to the collective conscious the recognition that the United States' citizenry is woefully "unprepared" with respect to functional foreign language proficiency, especially in certain languages.

There is no question that the terms less commonly taught languages (LCTL) in the academic world and critical languages in governmental circles have resulted for very different reasons; the former referring to the frequency with which languages are taught in formal academic settings, and the latter referring to languages spoken in regions and countries where the United States has sociopolitical, security, or economic interests. …

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