Never before has foreign language instruction been more important in the college curriculum. When today’s students graduate and begin their careers, they will find they need to be prepared to live and work in a global community. Increasingly, recent graduates are considering employment opportunities in other countries. And even those who work domestically are interacting with customers and co-workers whose native language is not English.
In recognition of that reality facing career-minded students, the College of Arts and Sciences requires competency in a foreign language to complete a bachelor’s degree. However, the college recognizes that the purpose of language acquisition is much more than developing communication skills in that language. Students also have the opportunity to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as to develop a skill set that will allow them to acquire other languages. Just as importantly, students can recognize the cultural impact that language study provides and learn to investigate and appreciate other communities.
To assist with this pursuit, the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures has developed a language lab that provides students with a range of technological resources. The lab is also a resource for faculty, offering the opportunity to rethink conventional language instruction and equip students with the global perspective they need. The lab, located in Alumni Memorial Building, includes media viewing facilities, arrangements for teleconferencing, classrooms with mobile computer stations, and a set of additional rooms where students engage in many innovative and non-traditional methods for studying foreign languages.
“[Students] create their own personal learning environments,” says lab coordinator Doug Canfield, “an example of which is the media group-viewing room, designed to provide access to a variety of learning-oriented media.” A forty-six-inch plasma television provides the students with viewing and listening access to everything from DVDs to Netflix videos to music, all in a variety of languages. The room also features an erasable glass board for students to write notes together and then record those notes through a CopyCam system, which saves the board as an image file that can be loaded onto a flash drive.
“Students in the lab have opportunities to develop their language skills in a cultural context,” says Sébastien Dubreil, assistant professor of French and director of the French Language Program.
Dubreil’s students regularly talk to engineering students in Bordeaux, France using the lab’s video-conferencing capabilities to explore their respective language, cultural values, and belief systems. Dubreil says this gives his students “exposure to the language and exposure to the culture, inasmuch as they are two sides of the same coin and are inextricably linked.”
Media technology is also helping students with learning disabilities acquire a new language. Some learning disabilities make the traditional classroom setting a difficult—if not impossible—place to learn a language. By exploring alternative methods for language instruction, the department hopes to provide all students with the opportunity to explore additional languages and cultures as they complete their degrees.
Students often question how their required course work fits into their future plans, especially when it comes to foreign language requirements. Thanks to the language lab and other college efforts, students are better understanding the need to communicate as a global citizen.
“Students are learning how to work not just with co-workers, but across linguistic and cultural barriers,” Dubreil says.