[EDLING:160] US: MLA Report Calls for Transformation of Foreign-Language Education

Francis M Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Thu May 24 14:15:55 UTC 2007

Via lgpolicy...

> http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/05/2007052402n.htm
> Thursday, May 24, 2007
> MLA Report Calls for Transformation of Foreign-Language Education
> Foreign-language teaching at American colleges and universities --
> typically characterized by two or three years of grammar and
> vocabulary taught pretty much in a vacuum, followed by more advanced
> courses in literature -- has outlived its usefulness and needs to
> change, according to a report to be released today by the Modern
> Language Association. That well-established model, it says, should be
> replaced by language programs organized on an interdisciplinary basis
> and containing from the beginning more cultural content to make
> graduates better able to function in an increasingly global
> environment. What is needed, the report says, is "a broader and more
> coherent curriculum in which language, culture, and literature are
> taught as a continuous whole."
> The 15-page report, "Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New
> Structures for a Changed World," was produced by a committee of seven
> senior language educators who spent two years studying the state of
> language teaching and came up with recommendations.  The approach put
> forward by the group has been discussed in general terms at various
> meetings of language educators in recent months, to widespread
> approval. Still, supporters expect the paper to spark controversy in
> language departments.
> "The departments are by and large still dominated by literature
> specialists," said Michael H. Long, director of the School of
> Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Maryland at
> College Park. "The recommendations of the report are going to run up
> against a lot of vested interests."  Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl,
> director of the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Language Center,
> said, "Those of us in foreign languages and applied linguistics are
> very excited" about the report's recommendations. Still, she added,
> for many senior foreign-language faculty members, "there is going to
> be a lot of discomfort. This is not going to be a welcome report."
> Indeed, the report calls for a deep restructuring of language
> departments. Typically, most tenured and tenure-track positions are
> filled by literature specialists who do little lower-level language
> teaching. In doctoral-granting departments, the report says, tenured
> or tenure-track faculty members teach only 7.4 percent of first-year
> undergraduate courses. If anything, that model has become more
> entrenched. "In the last few decades, we could see a drift of faculty
> members away from first-year courses," said Rosemary G. Feal,
> executive director of the Modern Language Association.
> That trend has contributed to a two-tier system in which first- and
> second-year language instructors, often lower-paid specialists
> employed with yearlong contracts, have no say in designing study
> programs. "It would be difficult to exaggerate the frustration this
> rigid and hierarchical model evokes," the report says. The structure
> "devalues the early years of language learning and impedes the
> development of a unified language-and-content curriculum." The report
> calls for replacing the two-tier system with more cooperative and
> integrated departments, and for hiring more linguists and
> second-language-acquisition specialists who would help in designing
> higher-quality courses.
> Among its recommendations, the report says departments and institutions 
> should:
> Set clear standards for language competencies for undergraduate majors.
> Establish foreign-language requirements (or levels of competence) for
> undergraduate majors in other fields.
> Establish language requirements in doctoral programs and apply those
> skills in research.
> Enhance and reward graduate student training in language teaching.
> Promote faculty learning of new languages.
> Promote alliances with educators who teach kindergarten through 12th grade.
> Seek out heritage speakers and design curricula to meet their special needs.
> Develop programs to meet the large need for graduates trained in
> translation and interpretation.
> Promote study abroad as an essential component of language education.
> The overarching goal of language education, the report says, should be
> "educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural
> competence."
> A possible model for defining transcultural understanding, it says,
> would be "the ability to comprehend and analyze the cultural
> narratives that appear in every kind of expressive form -- from
> essays, fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, humor, advertising,
> political rhetoric, and legal documents to performance, visual forms,
> and music." The report stresses the role of interdisciplinary courses,
> "focused, for instance, on a period, an issue, or a literary genre."
> Such courses would be taught in English by a team of faculty members
> and could be augmented by credit-bearing discussion modules taught in
> the target language.
> "In addition to attracting majors from other disciplines, such
> interdisciplinary team-taught courses would encourage learning
> communities, forge alliances among departments, and counter the
> isolation and marginalization that language and literature departments
> often experience on American campuses." The report comes as
> institutions have been coming under growing pressure to make their
> education more global. "We're seeing a lot of change in what students
> want," said Ms. Van Deusen-Scholl. As opposed to earlier generations
> who may have viewed foreign language study as an avenue to
> appreciation of non-English literature, students now often aspire to
> international careers, she said.
> A number of institutions have responded with courses designed to meet
> specific career goals, like medical Spanish and business Chinese. But
> those are mostly isolated initiatives, the report says.

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