Introduction to the U.S. Educational System for Language Instructors

– Author: Sally Magnan, Dianna Murphy, Erlin Barnard, Margaret Merrill

About Course

Introduction to the U.S. Educational System for Foreign Language Intructors, is the second in a series of courses developed for the National Online LCTL Teacher Training Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to strengthen the teaching and learning of LCTLs in the United States by providing increased professional development opportunities for postsecondary LCTL instructors. Through these courses, instructors learn about current research in language teaching and teaching methods, reflect on their own and others’ teaching practices, build communities of practice around language teaching, and strengthen their connections to professional organizations.

Introduction to the U.S. Educational System for Foreign Language Intructors is designed for postsecondary foreign language instructors who are teaching for the first time in the United States and have completed the first course in the series, Fundamentals of Language Teaching Methods. The primary audience for the course is teachers of less commonly taught languages, but the course may be useful for instructors of other languages who are new to teaching in the United States.

The course explores aspects of postsecondary education in the United States that may be unfamiliar to new instructors. It responds to questions such as: What are American schools and colleges like? How does language study fit in with the study of other disciplines? Who are our students? What do students expect of their instructors? What do supervisors expect of their instructors? How might instructors create a comfortable classroom environment that promotes learning? How might instructors handle difficult situations? How can instructors address the needs of individual learners in their language courses? How can instructors address the needs of heritage language learners? How do instructors develop a teaching portfolio? What are the benefits of involvement with professional organizations?


Introduction to the U.S. Educational System for Language Instructors was developed for the National Online Less Commonly Taught Languages Teacher Training Initiative, a collaborative project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Language Institute and the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL).  The course was developed in the UW-Madison Language Institute.

We sincerely thank all of the contributors to the project listed below for sharing their time, talents and expertise. We especially thank those colleagues who gave videotaped lectures, interviews and comments, and the many students who shared their thoughts and experiences in videotaped interviews. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Amy Free and the contributions of Cathy Trueba, University of Wisconsin-Madison McBurney Disability Resource Center (Lesson 4, Individual Learners) and the contributions from Olga Kagan, University of California, Los Angeles, National Heritage Language Resource Center (Lesson 5, Heritage Learners).

We thank the South Asia Summer Language Institute (SASLI) for giving us permission to videotape the 2008 workshop led by Maria Carreira and Juliana Wijaya on heritage language learning, and the National African Language Resource Center for allowing us to videotape presentations for the 2007 Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Workshop.

The many contributors to this course are:

Project co-directors

Sally Sieloff Magnan, Antonia Schleicher

Course authors:

The author team has a broad background in foreign language teaching methodology and in teaching and learning less commonly taught languages in the United States:

  • Sally Magnan (co-PI, Professor, Co-Director, UW-Madison Doctoral Program in Second Language Acquisition, Ph.D. French Linguistics);
  • Dianna Murphy (Associate Director, UW-Madison Language Institute; Ph.D.  Slavic Linguistics);
  • Erlin Barnard (UW-Madison Less Commonly Taught Languages Pedagogy Coordinator; Ph.D. Second Language Acquisition);
  • Margaret Merrill (doctoral candidate in the UW-Madison PhD in SLA Program; specialization in LCTL teacher education). 

Project manager
Dianna Murphy

Financial specialist
Malliga Somasundaram

Guest lectures, interviews, and comments

Mahdi Alosh
Robert Bickner
Barbara Bird
Susan Brantly
Sookyung Cho
Mary Claypool
Carol Compton
Donald Davis
Michael Everson
Naomi Geyer
Peggy Hager
Atsushi Hasegawa
Magdalena Hauner
Andrew Irving
Wendy Johnson
Olga Kagan
Claire Kotenbeutel
James P. Lantolf
Laurey Martin-Berg
Scott McGinnis
Renée Anne Poulin
Brajesh Samarth
Ellen Rafferty
Paul Sandrock
Uli Schamiloglu
Kazeem Sanuth
Melisa Tjong
Cathy Trueba
Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor
Robin Worth
Elisabeth Arti Wulandari

Video production and editing

David Macasaet, Marcelo Fraga, Dennis Rinzel, UW-Madison College of Letters and Science Learning Support Services; Dick Geier, Clark Thompson, UW-Madison School of Education Instructional Media Development Center


U.S. Department of Education International Research and Studies Program (grant # IRS P017A060016), the UW-Madison College of Letters and Science and the UW-Madison Language Institute