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Foreign Language Literacies

CARLA's Foreign Language Literacies project gives teachers research-based tools, resources, and experiences that help them effectively apply literacies pedagogy and engage students with authentic texts in secondary and post-secondary classrooms.


What is "Foreign Language Literacies"?

Traditional definitions of literacy focus on language users’ ability to read and write accurately. Yet in the 21st century, being literate in a language entails other abilities such as:
  • understanding and creating multimodal texts like web pages;
  • communicating across cultural and geographical contexts; and
  • using language for a range of social, professional, academic, and everyday purposes.
Because the modern meaning of literacy is multidimensional and dynamic, it is more appropriate to speak of literacies in the plural.

Why Adopt a Literacies Approach to Foreign Language Teaching?

It is important for foreign language classrooms reflect the dynamic, socially-determined, and multidimensional uses of language encountered in daily life. Adopting a literacies orientation helps meet this goal and has a number of advantages for teachers, students, and foreign language programs, including:
  • equipping students with the tools necessary to navigate the complex world of foreign languages and cultures;
  • engaging students with various types of authentic written, audio, audiovisual, and visual materials that provide a window into the products, practices, and perspectives of the target cultures they study;
  • providing a point of articulation between secondary and post-secondary contexts; and
  • bridging the language-content divide that characterizes many collegiate foreign language departments.

Research Project: Analyzing Literacies-Based Teaching Materials

The goal of this research project is to understand how the four activity types from the multiliteracies framework—experiencing, conceptualizing, analyzing, applying—are reflected in lesson plans that target interpretive communication in beginning and intermediate post-secondary Spanish courses. Analysis of 134 tasks from 25 lesson plans revealed that experiencing activities predominated; very few tasks reflected the activity types of conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying. The coding tool used for this analysis can help teachers make informed decisions about applying multiliteracies pedagogy in their courses and creating balanced lesson plans reflecting all four activity types. Stay tuned for a user-friendly version of the coding tool in the Resources for Teachers section of this webpage soon!

Research Project: Implementing Literacies-Based Teaching Materials

This research project investigates teachers' understandings and implementation of multiliteracies pedagogy in intermediate Spanish courses. The Foreign Language Literacies research team has collected a variety of data for qualitative and quantitative analysis: questionnaire responses related to teaching experiences and approaches; multiliteracies lesson plans; classroom observations and follow-up interviews; and recordings of professional development meetings. The goal of the project is to identify areas where teachers struggle to understand and apply multiliteracies pedagogy and then, in response, to design professional development tools and resources (e.g., lesson plan checklist, typology of multiliteracies activities, classroom observation form) that teachers can use in their own classrooms.

Foreign Language Literacies Resources for Teachers

Coming soon!

Professional Development

The CARLA summer institute on Using Authentic Materials to Develop 21st Century Literacies equips secondary and post-secondary language teachers with the tools necessary to evaluate authentic materials appropriate for their instructional context; analyze the effectiveness of existing lesson and unit plans; and create learning objectives and instructional activities that incorporate literacies-based principles and engage students in critical thinking, cross-cultural comparisons, and problem solving through authentic materials. As one past participant wrote, "I would not have believed it was possible to change my thinking about teaching/learning this much in one week!"

Foreign Language Literacies Bibliography

Research and scholarly articles, chapters, and books are listed on this page. The bibliography is organized around four main subject areas: theoretical and pedagogical perspectives; curricular and pedagogical applications of literacies-based approaches; student learning outcomes, perceptions, and experiences in literacies-oriented classrooms; and teacher understandings and applications of literacies pedagogy.

CARLA Summer Institutes for Language Teachers

Each summer CARLA offers a wide array of professional development opportunities for K-16 language teachers.

CARLA Bibliography

The CARLA bibliography contains more information on publications and presentations by faculty and staff involved in this project.


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Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414