Types of World Language Study in Elementary Schools
Elementary Foreign Language appears in elementary schools across the country in many different formats. Programs can be sequential, that is, following the same language throughout each grade level, or programs can address different languages at different grade levels. Programs can be content-based, that is, based on the content that is taught in the regular classroom, or programs can have a curriculum that is independent from that of the regular classroom. Programs can occur two times a week, four times a week or every day of the week and can range from 10 minutes in length to 50 minutes in length to the entire school day. Whatever the program design, the majority of programs fall into three categories:  Immersion, Foreign Language in the Elemenatary Schools (FLES) and Foreign Language Enrichment. The differences in these models depends on the amount of time daily devoted to language instruction and the amount of instruction that takes place in the target language.

Detail on the Types of Elementary Language Programs:

World Language Enrichment Programs Typically in enrichment programs, about 1-5% of the school week is spent in the second language.  Enrichment programs can be frequently and regularly scheduled over a short period of time, or they can be short and/or infrequently scheduled over a longer period of time.  Often students in an enrichment programs sample many languages and learn about language rather than learning the language itself.  This program option is offered as a before or after school model, usually with an additional fee.

The goal of an enrichment program is to develop an interest in different languages and to inspire future language study in students.  Students in enrichment programs learn basic words and phrases in one or more languages, develop listening skills, cultural awareness, and linguistic awareness, while maintaining a limited proficiency in the new language(s).

Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) FLES stands for Foreign Language in the Elementary School. This is a broad term that applies to any program that is implemented in an elementary school, however it is also the title of a specific type of program.

FLES programs come in many different varieties ranging from programs where 5% of the school day is devoted to the second language to programs where 50% of the day is devoted to the second language. The recommendation for FLES instruction is that 90-100 minutes per week or 30-40 minutes a day 3-5 days a week are devoted to second language instruction. Scheduling of these programs varies according to the needs of individual schools.

There are two types of FLES programs. The first is regular FLES where instructional time is devoted to learning the language and may be, but is not always integrated with subject matter and cultural instruction. The second type of FLES program is Content-Based FLES where instructional time is devoted to learning the language while it is integrated into the regular classroom curriculum with cultural instruction.

The goal of any FLES program is to acquire functional proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing the second language. Integrated throughout any FLES program is also the goal of acquiring an understanding of other cultures. An additional goal for a Content-Based FLES program is the use of regular classroom subject content as a way to acquire foreign language skills.

Total Immersion Immersion is a type of elementary program where 50-100% of the school day is spent learning the regular classroom subject matter in the foreign language so students are fully immersed in the language. Teachers teach most subjects like math, science, and social studies in the foreign language, as opposed to English. Language learning or grammar instruction is only incorporated as necessary throughout the curriculum. Instruction is intense and there is a large amount of time devoted to the use of the language.

 The goal of an immersion program is to become functionally proficient in the second language as well as mastering the regular classroom curricular objectives taught in the foreign language. Integrated in any language program is also the goal of acquiring an understanding of other cultures.

In most Immersion programs the second language is used for the entire school day during the first two or three years, and English instruction (reading and language arts) is slowly phased in during the following years.


"The United States must have quality foreign language programs in our schools so that all students will graduate with the ability to interact linguistically and culturally with people from many counties. Students who are competent in at least two languages will dramatically increase the United States' capabilities in diplomacy, in world trade and in human understanding."

The National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Language (2002)