Modern-Day Foreign Language Majors: Their Goals, Attainment, and Fit Within a Twenty-First Century Curriculum

  • Paula WinkeEmail author
  • Susan M. Gass
  • Emily S. Heidrich
Part of the Educational Linguistics book series (EDUL, volume 37)


In 1967, John Carroll produced a seminal research report that overviewed the proficiency levels of foreign languages majors at U.S. colleges and universities with the goal to capture and record the state of foreign language instruction in the United States at the university and college level. This chapter revisits the status of foreign language proficiency amongst majors with data from language majors from three large state universities. Data collected in areas of listening, speaking, and reading are compared with the data of Carroll. Fifty years later, a similar picture emerges with speaking and listening skills falling behind other skills. What is different, however, is the general picture of what it means to be a major, with the majority of students today declaring multiple majors as opposed to the single “language/literature” major of the past. A second area of investigation concerned the possible predictors of success amongst language majors. Heritage status, study abroad and intrinsic motivation were important predictors, but amongst those three, it was intrinsic motivation that stands out. Similar to the findings of Carroll, a factor that is important is when language learning begins, with greater progress being made in college-level courses when language learning begins before tertiary education.


Foreign language major Double major Proficiency Speaking Reading Listening 


  1. ACTFL. (2012). ACTFL proficiency guidelines. Alexandria, VA: ACTFL. Available from
  2. Bernhardt, E., & Brillantes, M. (2014). The development, management, and costs of a large-scale foreign language assessment program. In N. Mills & J. Norris (Eds.), Innovation and accountability in language program evaluation (pp. 41–61). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  3. Bernhardt, E., Molitoris, J., Romeo, K., Lin, N., & Valderrama, P. (2015). Designing and sustaining a foreign language writing proficiency assessment program at the postsecondary level. Foreign Language Annals, 48(3), 329–349. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Byrnes, H. (1988). How do you get there from here? Articulating the foreign language major program. ADFL Bulletin, 20(1), 35–38. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carroll, J. B. (1967). Foreign language proficiency levels attained by language majors near graduation from college. Foreign Language Annals, 1(2), 131–151. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clément, R., & Kruidenier, B. G. (1983). Orientations in second language acquisition: The effects of ethnicity, milieu, and target language on their emergence. Language Learning, 33(3), 273–291. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davidson, D. E. (2010). Study abroad: When, how long, and with what results? New data from the Russian front. Foreign Language Annals, 43(1), 6–26. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Duvick, R. J. (2002). Sustaining foreign language enrollments through collaboration: An interdisciplinary major. ADFL Bulletin, 33(2), 78–80. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dwyer, M. M. (2004). More is better: The impact of study abroad program duration. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 151–164.Google Scholar
  10. Herman, G. (1987). From dual to single track: Revision of the undergraduate French major at the University of California, Davis. ADFL Bulletin, 18(3), 25–27. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Holmquist, J. C. (1993). Social and psychological correlates of achievement: Spanish at Temple University. The Modern Language Journal, 77(1), 34–44. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Isbell, D., Winke, P., & Gass, S. (2018). Using the ACTFL OPIc to assess proficiency and monitor progress in a tertiary foreign languages program. Language Testing.
  13. Jrade, C. L. (2009). Assessing the present foreign language major and offering strategies to improve it. ADFL Bulletin, 41(2), 83–87. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kenyon, D. M., & Malabonga, V. (2001). Comparing examinee attitudes toward computer-assisted and other oral proficiency assessments. Language Learning & Technology, 5(2), 60–83. Retrieved from
  15. Kinginger, C. (Ed.). (2013). Social and cultural aspects of language learning in study abroad. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  16. Kym, A. (2011). Curricular change and the major. ADFL Bulletin, 41(3), 43–47. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lafford, B. A. (2004). The effect of the context of learning on the use of communication strategies by learners of Spanish as a second language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26(2), 201–225. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Liskin-Gasparro, J. E. (1995). Practical approaches to outcomes assessment: The undergraduate major in foreign languages and literatures. ADFL Bulletin, 26(2), 21–27. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lusin, N. (2009). Are you counting second majors in foreign languages? ADFL Bulletin, 41(2), 105–107. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Magnan, S. S. (1986). Assessing speaking proficiency in the undergraduate curriculum: Data from French. Foreign Language Annals, 19(5), 429–438. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Oller, J. W., & Nagato, N. (1974). The long-term effects of FLES: An experiment. The Modern Language Journal, 58(1–2), 15–19. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ortega, L., & Byrnes, H. (Eds.). (2008). The longitudinal study of advanced L2 capacities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  23. Pope, R. D. (2008). The major in foreign languages: A four-pronged meditation. ADFL Bulletin, 40(1), 24–26. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rifkin, B. (2005). A ceiling effect in traditional classroom foreign language instruction: Data from Russian. The Modern Language Journal, 89(1), 3–18. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Robinson, J. P., Rivers, W. P., & Brecht, R. D. (2006). Speaking foreign languages in the United States: Correlates, trends, and possible consequences. The Modern Language Journal, 90(4), 457–472. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rosengrant, S. F. (1987). Error patterns in written Russian. The Modern Language Journal, 71(2), 138–146. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sanz, C., & Morales-Front, A. (Eds.). (2018). The Routledge handbook of study abroad research and practice. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Saussy, H. (2005). Language and literature on the pedagogical continuum; or, life begins after proficiency. ADFL Bulletin, 36(2), 17–21. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schumann, J. H. (1975). Affective factors and the problem of age in second language acquisition. Language Learning, 25(2), 209–235. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Spada, N. (1986). The interaction between type of contact and type of instruction: Some effects on the L2 proficiency of adult learners. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 8(02), 181–199. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Spolsky, B. (1969). Attitudinal aspects of second language learning. Language Learning, 19(3–4), 271–275. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tschirner, E. (1996). Scope and sequence: Rethinking beginning foreign language instruction. The Modern Language Journal, 80(1), 1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tschirner, E. (2016). Listening and reading proficiency levels of college students. Foreign Language Annals, 49(2), 201–223. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016a). Digest of Education Statistics [Web only table] Table 325.57 Degrees in French, German, Italian, and Spanish language and literature conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree: Selected years, 1949–50 through 2014–15. Retrieved from:
  36. U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016b). Digest of Education Statistics [Web only table] Table 325.59 Degrees in Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian language and literature conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree: 1969–70 through 2014–15. Retrieved from:
  37. Urlaub, P. (2014). Departmental contexts and foreign language majors. ADFL Bulletin, 43(1), 123–134. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ushioda, E. (2011). Why autonomy? Insights from motivation theory and research. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 221–232. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ushioda, E., & Dörnyei, Z. (2012). Motivation. In S. M. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 396–409). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Wong, W., & Van Patten, B. (2003). The evidence is IN: Drills are OUT. Foreign Language Annals, 36(3), 403–423. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zyzik, E. C., & Polio, C. (2008). Incidental focus on form in Spanish literature courses. The Modern Language Journal, 92, 50–73. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paula Winke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susan M. Gass
    • 1
  • Emily S. Heidrich
    • 2
  1. 1.Second Language Studies ProgramMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Center for Language Teaching AdvancementMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations