Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Distinguished-Level Learning Online: Support Materials from LangNet and RussNet

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Distinguished-Level Learning Online: Support Materials from LangNet and RussNet

Article excerpt


This article introduces the reader to two online sources of materials for working on improving listening and reading skills. The materials are intended for learners already at Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) Level 3 (Superior) proficiency in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Spanish, who desire to reach Level 4 (Distinguished, or in the vernacular, near-native) proficiency. The materials are available on RussNet and LangNet. A rationale for moving beyond Superior level proficiency to Distinguished level proficiency is also provided.


For some years now, the increasing globalization of world markets and the interweaving of different nations' politics has influenced many disciplines to develop pragmatically and internationally oriented course objectives. In the foreign language held, a growing pragmatic orientation lias caused the acquisition of foreign language skills to begin lo be viewed as the development of a useful commodity, rather than as the purely intellectual endeavor many had considered it in the past. The nearly concurrent appearance of the Proficiency Movement with globalization (and perhaps not altogether unmotivated by the changing nature of international interaction) has pushed the language teaching profession into treating language as a tool of communication, rather than as a subject for study. Some foreign language departments have been quick to embrace this new direction, some have resisted the trend, and still others have ignored it.

Regardless of departmental objective and attitude, few students today actually attain the narrow goal of oral proficiency sufficient to minimal professional needs, let alone a broader level of what might be called multiliteracy (Belcher & Connor, 2001) or mult'dinguacy (Brecht & Ingold, 2000). Those who do rarely have support systems, let alone classrooms, to support them (Leaver &Atwell, 2002).

After the events of September 11, 2001, policymakers' statements have pointed to the lack of available, useful language expertise in the United States as a danger to security, as well as a handicap in global economics. This lack (and the need for competent language professionals) has been especially salient at the highest level of foreign language proficiency: "near-native," "distinguished," or "Level 4." Although near-native proficiency is not a new requirement for a number of language-dependent professions, including teaching, most establishments have never demanded that practitioners of the profession actually achieve that level of communicative competence, and, with the exception of U.S. government language schools, foreign language programs have generally continued to produce graduates at no more than Intermediate levels of proficiency (Levels 1-1+ on the Interagency Language Round table [ILR] scale), or, for those acquiring advanced degrees, Advanced proficiency (ILR Levels 2-2+) (Brecht & Rivers, 2000).' Some learners of Romance languages who spend a significant portion of time studying or working abroad, do achieve Superior-level proficiency (ILR Level 3), but even among them Level 4 is very rare-so rare, in fact, that some institutions that do work at much higher levels (e.g., the Monterey Institute of International Studies, which trains students at professional and native levels in two or more languages to be skilled interpreters and translators) must frequently conduct preparatory courses in the United States and abroad to help their incoming French and Spanish students reach minimal levels of proficiency for the Translation and Interpretation program (Angelelli & Degueldre, 2002).

Distinguished-level proficiency (ILR Levels 4-4+) is often what is really needed, especially for students who plan to work in areas such as diplomacy, negotiation, translation, interpretation, or international business (e.g., a European study of corporate needs pointed strongly to the need for near-native skills in a second and third language, [Didiot-Cook, Gauthier, & Schierlinckx, 200O])2. …

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