Russian in Foreign Language Exploratory Curricula: Problems, Methods, Benefits

Rachel Taylor Stauffer, University of Virginia

Foreign Language Exploratory (FLEX) programs are common in the curricula of many middle schools in the United States. The central objectives of FLEX curricula are usually "to provide an introduction to [foreign] language learning; to develop an awareness and appreciation of a foreign culture; to recognize the value of speaking an additional language; to enhance understanding of English; and to motivate students to enroll in sequential language programs in the future"(Curtain, 426). In theory, by exposing students to a selection of languages, they may make more informed decisions about which language(s) they wish to study at the secondary level.

FLEX programs almost always consist of an extremely user-friendly introduction to French and Spanish. Students are rarely exposed to difficult grammar, nor is it expected that they will achieve a significant level of communicative competency. In general, FLEX curricula tend to be linguistically uncomplicated so that students do not become frustrated. It is assumed that if students do not enjoy themselves with a language at the FLEX level, then they will not choose to continue with that language at the sequential level. Though it is uncertain what effect FLEX courses have on enrollment in languages at the university level, we may deduce that the experience a student has in a FLEX course does in some way relate to his or her future decisions about language study. If this is true, then let us propose that the successful inclusion of Russian in FLEX programs could have a positive effect on enrollment at the secondary and subsequently, at the post-secondary level.

In order to promote interest in, as opposed to frustration with, Russian, objectives for students should include:

By focusing on these six objectives, I believe that 5th to 8th grade students in FLEX curricula will not be frustrated by the complexity of Russian, rather, I believe they will be intrigued and motivated to continue studying Russian.

As a means of supporting the proposed objectives for FLEX curricula in Russian, I will discuss the problems of teaching Russian in FLEX curricula, assess the current state of Russian in FLEX programs, clarify the relationship between FLEX courses and student choices in language study, and suggest an Exploratory Russian curriculum in which these objectives are met. Through these tasks, I hope to determine the usefulness of Russian as a FLEX language, specifically as a means of stimulating enrollment in secondary and post-secondary Russian programs.

Works Cited
1. Curtain,Helena and Carol Ann Dahlberg. Languages and Children: Making the Match. Pearson: Boston, 2004.