Critical thinking has long been recognized as a valuable skill, both in education in general and within the world language teaching field specifically. In recent years, critical thinking has been identified as one of the 21st century skills that students need to succeed in modern society (Partnership, 2009). However, there is no clear, unifying definition of the term itself (Paul, 2004), and the definition of critical thinking is debated in many different fields without support from empirical data (Kuhn, 1999). Similarly, critical thinking has been often discussed in the literature as having great potential to facilitate language learning, and particularly to develop language proficiency (Gaskaree, Mashhady & Dousti, 2010; Heining-Boynton & Heining-Boynton, 1992; Hoch & Hart, 1991; Rojas, 2001; Williams, Lively & Harper, 1994). However, this discussion has not been centered around a single, clear definition or been supported by empirical research. This study attempts to fill these gaps by exploring how currently practicing world language teachers define the term critical thinking. Definitions were gathered through a survey of K-16 world language teachers from across the United States and through interviews with individual beginning level German instructors at a large, private university in the western United States. Findings revealed three primary ways in which teachers define critical thinking: first, by identifying characteristics of critical thinking; second, by discussing the thought processes and skills used in the action of critical thinking; and third, by describing the topics about which critical thinking takes place, either on the micro-level, dealing with language itself, or on the macro-level, dealing with real-world issues and themes. Based on these three areas of definition, several pedagogical implications were identified. As critical thinking is integrated as a 21st century skill into the world language classroom, the traditional roles of the teacher may need to transform, the content used in the classroom may need to change, and the activities in which students are asked to engage may likewise need to shift. The integration of these pedagogical implications into the world language classroom as a means to facilitate the development of advanced levels of language proficiency is also discussed.



College and Department

Humanities; Center for Language Studies



Date Submitted


Document Type





Critical thinking, higher-order learning, 21st century skills, language proficiency, Bloom's Taxonomy, Revised Bloom's Taxonomy, ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines