Just 18 percent of Americans speak a second language — drastically lower than the 53 percent of European citizens who speak more than one.

It's a number that a new partnership aims to raise.

The Learning Technologies Media Lab at the University of Minnesota and EMC Publishing are collaborating to create EMC Languages, an online program for teaching world languages in K-12 classrooms.

"It's clear that there's a pressing need" to convince students of the importance of learning other languages, said Eric Cantor, chief executive officer of New Mountain Learning, parent company of EMC Publishing, which develops and produces K-12 classroom materials.

The 10-year partnership also aims to transform world language learning by truly integrating technology into the classroom, going deeper than just online tests, said Charlie Miller, co-director of the LT Media Lab, a design and research center in the U's College of Education and Human Development.

EMC Languages will start as a pilot program in the fall and be available in early 2014. It will start with Spanish and French and eventually expand to Chinese, German and Italian. It will initially focus on grades six-12. More information is available at emcl.com.

Cantor said there are other online language courses, but having a teacher run the course makes this one unique.

"With the pressures of more kids being put into a class and budgets being constrained, we need to find ways to help support the teacher," Cantor said.

EMC Languages has three phases: Discover, where students get to know vocabulary; Expand, where they learn about culture; and Perform, where they demonstrate their skills through the Media Lab's video platforms called Avenue and Flipgrid, which allow one-on-one assessments via webcam, and video discussions for students to reflect on the lessons.

"The computers and the technology should afford new opportunities to build upon what the teacher is already doing quite well," Miller said.

Lydia Coutré • 612-673-4654