From the Michigan Department of Education's World Languages Standards and Benchmarks:
World languages is the study of languages and cultures. Learners develop the ability to communicate inter-linguistically and inter-culturally and gain insight into themselves and others. They acquire knowledge of the structure and function of languages and societies. Studying languages provides learners with access to the knowledge and skills necessary to function in a global community, marketplace, and workplace.
The Michigan World Language Standards and Benchmarks define what students should know and be able to do to communicate effectively in a language other than English. These standards and benchmarks outline three levels of proficiency: a level that meets the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements and two additional levels that describe the knowledge and skills attained by students who complete an extended program of study.
Specifically, the standards and benchmarks describe:
1) the communicative functions, or tasks, that students should be able to carry out in that language,
2) the contexts, or situations, in which students can understand and use written, spoken and/or signed language to carry out these tasks, and
3) the level of accuracy and appropriateness of the language students use.
This three part functions-contexts-accuracy model can be used to describe language proficiency at a variety of levels, from the very basic, like greeting and asking how someone is, to the highly sophisticated, like supporting and defending an opinion or negotiating a business transaction.
There are many ways for language learners to develop and enhance their language proficiency. However, all of these paths to language proficiency have five essential elements in common. All proficiency-oriented opportunities to learn a world language emphasize:
meaningful spoken, written and/or signed communication
the fundamental link between language and the culture or cultures in which the language is used
the role of interdisciplinary content connections
the need for opportunities to compare languages and cultures
frequent opportunities to learn and use language within the context of an authentic, living language community
These five essential elements are at the heart of the national Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2006).