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Federal Grant Funds New Program for World Language Teachers

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Program leverages UMD’s language expertise to create professional development network.

Through a four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) at the University of Maryland is developing a comprehensive, research-based professional development program for world language teachers, with a particular focus on the needs of community colleges and instructors of less commonly taught languages.  

The program, “Professionals in Education Advancing Research and Language Learning” (PEARLL), received special designation from the Department of Education to become a Title VI Language Resource Center (LRC), joining a national network of centers developing resources to promote the teaching and learning of world languages. The program aims to create a common vision for high-quality language learning by providing language educators with new models of professional development and effective support materials.

Rebecca Damari, co-director of PEARLL and director of research at the NFLC, said that there are few platforms for world language scholars to exchange information with teachers in real-world classroom settings. Providing opportunities for educators to engage with high-quality, research-based professional development—and tracking the impact of this training on educators and students—are key program goals.

“There is so much research on what’s effective,” said Damari. “But many language educators don’t have good ways to access the research, and not all professional development is research-based.”

The NFLC is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between scholars and practitioners because of its expertise in both research and teacher training. Through the STARTALK initiative and other federally-funded projects, the NFLC has led teacher development programs for over a decade and in the process developed a substantial catalog of resources for both teachers and students of world languages.

The project will build on these already robust materials to create an online hub of resources for language educators and offer in-person and remote professional development opportunities. Through these resources, the project aims to create a professionalized network of world language instructors.

“The needs of world language teachers are often overlooked, leaving them feeling marginalized and unsupported,” said Thomas Sauer, co-director of PEARLL and senior associate for professional development at the NFLC. “The resources we are developing will empower teachers by allowing them to connect with each other, share information and take control of their professional growth.”

NFLC is partnering with Miami Dade College and Northern Virginia Community College, both minority-serving community colleges, to pilot the resources offered by PEARLL.

“World language skills are essential to developing global understanding and fostering diversity,” said Bonnie Thornton Dill, professor and dean of ARHU. “Supporting language teachers will ensure that learners develop the linguistic and cultural literacy they need to compassionately and successfully interact with others in the global economy, both here in the U.S. and around the world.”