In today’s globalized world, being proficient in two or more languages is becoming increasingly valuable. High school students who possess strong language skills have a competitive edge in college admissions, job opportunities, and personal growth. One way to recognize and celebrate their language proficiency is through The Seal of Biliteracy Program.
What is the Seal of Biliteracy?
The Seal of Biliteracy is an official recognition awarded to high school students who have demonstrated proficiency in two or more languages. It serves as evidence of their language skills and cultural competency, providing them with a tangible credential that can be showcased on college applications and resumes.
The first Seal of Biliteracy was established in California in 2011 as a way to honor and promote multilingualism amongst students. The initiative gained widespread popularity and has since been adopted across much of the United States. Currently, the Seal of Biliteracy is recognized and awarded in forty-nine states as well as Washington, D.C. Typically, the seal is affixed to a high school diploma or transcript, thus serving as a visible symbol of the student’s language proficiency upon high school graduation.
Benefits of Pursuing a Seal of Biliteracy
There are a number of benefits to earning a Seal of Biliteracy that may help encourage students as they consider pursuing this ambitious goal.
College Admissions and Scholarships
Seals of Biliteracy have gained recognition among colleges and universities as a valuable achievement. Admissions officers often view this accolade as a testament to student dedication, perseverance, and ability to thrive in a diverse and interconnected world. Some institutions even offer scholarships or preferential admission for students who have attained proficiency in more than one language.
In an increasingly global job market, bilingualism is highly sought after by employers. The Seal of Biliteracy can give high school students a competitive edge when applying for internships or study abroad opportunities and when interviewing with future employers. This is true because biliteracy is often evidence of an applicant’s ability to communicate effectively with diverse populations, adapt to different cultural contexts, and navigate international business environments.
Personal Growth and Cultural Understanding
Learning a second language not only enhances communication skills but also fosters cultural understanding and empathy. Biliteracy encourages students to explore different cultures, traditions, and perspectives. By engaging with diverse communities, students develop a broader worldview and become more open-minded individuals.
Community Recognition and Pride
Earning the Seal of Biliteracy is a significant achievement. Schools and communities often celebrate students who reach this milestone, fostering a sense of pride and accomplishment. This recognition can motivate other students to pursue language learning and promote a more inclusive and multicultural environment within the school community.
The specific requirements and criteria for awarding a state seal of biliteracy differ from one state to another. Generally, students are required to undergo language testing, particularly if they are seeking a seal above the basic proficiency level. Specific tests used to determine proficiency vary depending on the state or school district; however, some of the most frequently used language tests and guidelines include:
- The ACTF (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Proficiency Guidelines. This is not a particular test but rather a set of guidelines used to evaluate a student’s ability in speaking, writing, reading, and listening in the target language. Exams that follow ACTF Proficiency Guidelines are typically administered by certified language assessors and identify five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice.
- AP (Advanced Placement) Language Exams. Some states accept a high score on the AP Language exams as evidence of language proficiency. These exams are currently offered in Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Latin, French, and German.
- STAMP (STAndards-based Measurement of Proficiency). STAMP is an online, computer-adaptive assessment that also looks at a student’s reading, writing, listening, and speaking abilities. It can be used with students in grades K-12.
- Language-specific exams. Certain languages may also have their own proficiency exams, such as the DELE (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) for Spanish or the DELF (Diplôme D’études en Langue Française) for French.
Some states may also distinguish between proficiency levels when awarding their state seals. Again, the specific levels may vary slightly depending on the state or district, but they generally follow a common framework:
- Basic Proficiency: This level signifies a basic understanding and communication ability in the second language. It may require completion of a certain number of language courses or a minimum grade in language classes.
- Intermediate Proficiency: At this level, students demonstrate a more developed proficiency in the second language. They can understand and express themselves with greater complexity and accuracy. This level may require passing a language proficiency exam or completing a specific number of language courses.
- Advanced Proficiency: This level represents a high level of proficiency, where students can effectively communicate, comprehend, and analyze information in the second language. It often requires passing a more rigorous proficiency exam or completing advanced coursework.
- Distinguished Proficiency: This is typically the highest level of language proficiency recognized by the Seal of Biliteracy. Students at this level exhibit near-native or native-like fluency in the second language. They can engage in complex discussions, write in a variety of genres, and understand nuanced cultural references. Achieving this level may involve passing an advanced language proficiency exam or meeting specific criteria set by the state or district.
Additionally, in most states, regardless of the student’s first language, the testing requirements for proficiency in a language other than English are the same. Thus, a student whose first language is Spanish would demonstrate proficiency in Spanish in the same way as a native English speaker. In contrast, demonstrating English proficiency generally differs between native and non-native speakers (e.g., a native English speaker may only be required to demonstrate proof of attending school in the United States, while a non-native speaker may be required to undergo testing).
ALTA and the Seal of Biliteracy
ALTA Language Services recently endorsed the Nebraska Seal of Biliteracy, which was first adopted in 2020. We believe it is essential to recognize the achievements of multilingual students and the role they play in creating a more diverse and inclusive world.
ALTA thus provides language proficiency testing for high school students in more than 90 languages, including low-density languages that are often unavailable from other providers. This testing is done in conjunction with school districts throughout the United States to recognize the achievements of students who are fluent in more than one language. We partner with hundreds of school districts across the country to verify the language skills of students seeking the Seal of Biliteracy. You can find more information on ALTA’s services here.
The Seal of Biliteracy program offers high school students numerous benefits, including increased college opportunities, career advantages, personal growth, and community recognition. By encouraging language learning and celebrating linguistic diversity, the program equips students with valuable skills for success in an interconnected world. High schoolers should seize the opportunity to pursue the Seal of Biliteracy and unlock a world of possibilities.
Janet Barrow holds a B.A. in Written Arts from Bard College and a Master of Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Sydney. She works as a generalist speech pathologist and freelance writer and is currently finishing her first novel.