World Languages

The Hawai‘i Department of Education's World Languages Program focuses on the teaching and learning of languages other than English and the cultures the languages represent. The program’s vision is that all students will communicate and demonstrate cultural competence in at least two languages.

HIDOE World Languages


The World Languages Program consists of instruction in languages including American Sign Language, French, German, Ilokano, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, Samoan, and Spanish at the elementary and secondary school levels. Language offerings vary from school to school and are based on school resources and interest from the students and the community. Japanese, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, and Spanish are the more commonly taught languages.

All languages and cultures are valuable resources.  An intentional and meaningful school design takes into account the school’s multilingualism and biliteracy goals based on the language development needs and interests of their students and communities.

  • At the elementary level, languages may be taught during the school day or as after-school enrichment programs.  Programs may be exploratory in nature with a focus on building awareness and interest, or they may have language proficiency goals.  
  • At the secondary level, language courses are most often sequential credit courses offered during the school day with a focus on developing communicative proficiency.  Other courses that may be offered include exploratory courses, courses for heritage learners, and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  

Why study World Languages

There is a large body of research that shows second language acquisition as benefiting cognitive development, academic achievement, and development of positive attitudes toward cultural diversity (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017).  Hawai'i’s multilingual and multicultural society, its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and a growing economy create a need for World Languages knowledge.  Increasing and nurturing multilingualism and multiculturalism will provide advantages for students, notably a foundation for personal enrichment, scholastic achievement, and economic opportunities.  Learning more than one language opens new doors and expands opportunities to learn as well as providing students with another view of one’s own native language and culture. 

Through the study of World Languages, students will:

  • Develop a strong sense of identity, language and cultural awareness, and appreciation of multiple perspectives, practices, and products;
  • Recognize the importance of language learning for academic achievement, civic and community engagement, and career development; and
  • Be empowered to use their multilingual and intercultural skills to engage actively in their local and global communities and become change agents.

Structural foundation for World Languages

The vision of the Hawai‘i State Department of Education & Board of Education Strategic Plan is that “Hawai'i's students are educated, healthy, and joyful lifelong learners who contribute positively to our community and global society.”  Citizens of the world today need to be able to communicate in a language other than English, as global economies and new technologies continue to erase existing borders among nations.  The study of other languages enables students to communicate with people in other cultures and to participate more fully in the global community.  

Goal 1, Objective 3 of the Strategic Plan states that “All students are offered and engage in a rigorous, well-rounded education so that students will be prepared to be successful in their post-high school goals.”  World Languages courses, whether exploratory or sequential with proficiency goals, support a well-rounded and personalized education.  Students may choose to engage in language learning to fulfill college prerequisites, to challenge themselves, or for personal reasons such as improving one’s heritage language.

The Hawai'i Department of Education's Implementation Plan encourages schools to take action to “define/expand language acquisition approach” in the areas of biliteracy and dual languages.  The World Languages program supports this action item by providing students with a range of languages including AP-level language courses.  Additionally, opportunities are offered for students to engage in language learning that supports communities such as heritage language classes or after-school enrichment programs.

Two Board of Education policies aim to support language development: Policy 105-15 Seal of Biliteracy and Policy 105-14 Multilingualism for Equitable Education.  Both of these policies promote multilingualism either by maintaining or increasing literacy in one’s home language or by becoming proficient in a new language.  The World Languages Program plays a key role in supporting the implementation of the two policies. 


  • MultilingualismAll cultures and languages are valuable resources.  Multilingualism creates learning environments that draw from the rich linguistic diversity and cultural strengths of Hawai‘i’s students.  The Hawai‘i Department of Education envisions all Hawai‘i public schools embrace, promote, and perpetuate multilingualism and multiculturalism to support learners, families, and communities.  
  • Seal of BiliteracyThe award promotes college-, career-, and community-readiness in a global society.  Seal of Biliteracy is awarded upon graduation to students who demonstrate a high proficiency in: 
    • both of the state's two official languages (English and Hawaiian) or 
    • either of the state’s two official languages and at least one additional language, including American Sign Language.  

Contact Information

Emily Lam

Phone: 808-784-6428



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