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The Challenges of Teacher Professional Development

By Edwige Simon, PhD. Instructional Technology and Online Learning Director at ICLS

Speaking a language is not like riding a bike!

Once you’ve learned to ride a bike, you’ll never forget. Unfortunately, this does not apply to language learning. The only way to maintain one’s proficiency is to take every opportunity to speak the target language. Without regular practice, language skills inevitably decrease.

People who speak multiple languages often report that their fluency in their non-native tongue ebbs and flows over time. It might flourish as a result of an extended stay in the target country and begin to slowly subside once they are back in their native environment. Steve Leveen coined the term “flowers of fluency” to describe the temporary flourishing of one’s language skills.

Language teachers are aware of these challenges of teacher professional development. ACTFL recommends a minimal level of advanced-low to teach a language effectively (ACTFL, 2013). While most new teachers can demonstrate this level of proficiency when first entering the profession, maintaining this level over the years can be difficult for various reasons.


Challenge #1

Language programs tend to offer a majority of beginner-level courses, therefore providing teachers with few opportunities to practice higher levels of the language.


Challenge #2

In some situations, advanced, AP or conversation courses are reserved for teachers with a native command of the language.


Challenge #3

One might assume that teachers being “off” in the summer means that they have ample time to refresh their language skills abroad. Yet, family commitments and financial constraints make it challenging to take off for Costa Rica or the French Riviera for six weeks every year.


Challenge #4

Travel restrictions have made full immersion in the target language and culture difficult, even impossible in some cases, which is especially daunting for context and culture in language teaching.


Challenge #5

In some rural areas, a teacher might be the only language teacher at their school or even in their district. Depending on their language of expertise, finding local partners to practice with might be difficult as well.


Harnessing the power of technology

Fortunately, today’s technology makes it possible to immerse oneself in the target culture by listening to podcasts and music in the target language or watching movies on Netflix. However, watching a film does not offer a chance to practice spontaneous interpersonal speaking. Another option is to rely on services such as Talkboard to find a language partner. While helpful, such solutions offer mostly unstructured conversation practice, which might not fully meet the needs of language teachers.

The Challenges of Maintaining Proficiency for Language TeachersICLS’ advanced conversation courses for language teachers

ICLS’ advanced conversation courses for language teachers offer a unique solution to the challenge of language teacher proficiency.

Our courses, available in French, German, Spanish and Italian, are designed with both in-service and pre-service language teachers in mind. They are offered fully online and taught by experienced language educators.


The Challenges of Maintaining Proficiency for Language Teachers

The curriculum is built around authentic and up-to-date resources (videos, podcasts, news articles, etc.). Through various course activities, teachers get a chance to practice their speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills. Every week is centered around current events, and the topics are aligned with AP themes. Visit this page to request a copy of the syllabus and discover the themes that each course covers.

The advanced conversation courses for language teachers courses are an excellent way for teachers to boost their proficiency and regain confidence in their speaking abilities. Most teachers start the course feeling nervous, but they end it feeling excited and energized. Grow your own flower of fluency this summer. Register today.



ACTFL/CAEP Program Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers, 2013

Steve Leveen, America’s Bilingual Century, 2020

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