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Department Spotlight: Foreign Languages

President Leo M. Lambert has called for Elon to “articulate the role of fluency in a second language to being a global citizen” and to “ensure that students have access to a vibrant, innovative foreign language curriculum that connects to their career aspirations.” To support President Lambert’s goal, the Department of Foreign Languages is developing and enhancing programs to promote second-language proficiency to prepare Elon students to be exceptional ambassadors in a global society.

The department is expanding its cutting-edge curriculum in several languages; forming partnerships with other departments and programs such as the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and the School of Communications; and weaving language and multicultural understanding into the burgeoning multifaith efforts on campus. Proficiency in a second language is no longer a luxury; for today’s graduates, it’s a necessity. To achieve this goal, Elon College and the Department of Foreign Languages plan to promote second-language proficiency on several fronts.

Continued enhancement of curriculum, course offerings and teaching methods

Our two bachelor of arts-granting programs (French and Spanish) have standing curriculum committees that constantly review and update the major curricula based on disciplinary standards and careful assessment of student learning outcomes. The Foreign Language Research Group on Curriculum and Pedagogy, established this fall, will serve as an incubator for research-based innovations in curriculum design, course design and teaching methodology, directly supporting the department’s efforts to develop and maintain a cutting-edge, rigorous language curriculum.

In the past decade, a significant shift has taken place in language education across the country and at Elon, with its reputation for engaged learning and focus on teaching grounded in research is poised to become a national leader in this area. Our language programs will pursue three interrelated aims: literacy, which is the ability to read and write complex texts from business memos to literary masterpieces; context-appropriate speech, which is the ability to use the correct register of language in whatever social or professional context you find yourself; and transcultural competence, an awareness of cultural narratives.

These aims will be achieved through innovative pedagogies, many of them drawn from the wider literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning, such as: discussion methodologies that seek to draw out students’ preconceived notions about culture, language and nationality; task- and problem-based methodologies that present students with real-world scenarios; e-learning methodologies that deliver rich digital content or that connect students on one continent to peers on another; visual culture methodologies that present images and diagrams as rich sites of meaning, information and interpretation; and just-in-time teaching methodologies that let each individual student identify which topics are most problematic and direct time and energy there.

Establishment of formal curricular connections to departments and programs

The two-track Business German program, an innovative partnership between the Department of Foreign Languages and the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, is an example of the type of connection that can be made. In the dual-degree track, a student may earn a bachelor’s degree in business from Elon and a bachelor’s degree in business from our partner university in Reutlingen, Germany, in just four years. The second track leads to the prestigious Zertifikat Deutsch fur den Beruf, a certificate in Business German offered by the German government. Both tracks feature language and cultural study, business-specific language training, internship opportunities and study abroad. Just months after being launched, the program attracted a dozen talented first- and second-year students. At the conclusion of their studies, these students will be prepared to live and work in Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy and a hub of international business.

Related to the Business German program is the recent establishment of degrees in international business and international economics, each of which requires 300-level language study and a semester abroad in the target country. We plan to continue our collaboration with the Love School of Business by developing and proposing programs in Business Chinese, Business Spanish and others.

Other curricular collaborations are on the horizon, including potential partnerships with Elon’s health professions programs and the School of Communications. We also will continue our long-standing partnership with the Department of International Studies. The recently established Middle Eastern studies program is an example of the innovative partnerships that can be forged. Assistant Professor Shereen Elgamal is bringing attention at Elon to Arabic language studies, preparing our students to engage with this crucial region of the world.

The department also is seeking enhanced collaboration with programs in the humanities and social sciences. A model of this collaboration is the classical studies program. An inherently interdisciplinary program, classical studies combines the examination of language, history, cultural studies, literature and other fields to explore the ancient and early modern world – the very foundation of Western civilization. The program also studies the ways these ideas and practices have influenced and been modified by later generations.

Presenting languages within a cultural context

In addition to interweaving relevant cultural concepts and practices with the curriculum taught in the classroom, the Department of Foreign Languages is best suited for an active role in Elon’s initiatives for cultural diversity and multifaith collaboration. The department has a representative on the newly formed Diversity Education Committee, which aims to develop within Elon students a clear understanding and appreciation for world cultures, peoples and practices. As we devise means and tools that prepare our students to enter the global job market and become active contributors to today’s global society, we believe that cultural awareness and sensitivity are necessary skill sets. Student organizations, such as the Arabic Language Organization, are important venues of exposure for multiculturalism as they allow the students unique experiences with cultural concepts and practices that are different from their own.

The study of language and culture is inextricably lined to the multifaith realities of today’s world. As we assist our students in exploring the world and its interconnections. The Department of Foreign Languages envisions active collaborations with Elon’s proposed multifaith center, where we see our students gaining clarity about their personal spirituality and practicing their faith freely while they learn about and develop greater understanding for the beliefs and practices of others. Budding student organizations such as Better Together also play a major role in crossing linguistic, cultural and religious divides and help devise ways for students to connect over common values and causes to celebrate their differences.

Reaching out to our alumni

We welcome the opportunity to reconnect with alumni and to bring you back to the fold to expand the Elon network for our current students and extend the reach of our department. We think of our students as ambassadors to the world, and we find it imperative to present languages in their cultural contexts in ways that highlight relevant beliefs and practices. Using the talents, skills and experiences of our alumni to broaden those possibilities is an exciting opportunity. If you’re interested in being part of our alumni network, and perhaps returning to campus to talk with our students about how you’re using your second-language skills in your career, please contact Scott Windham, department chair, at swindham@elon.edu. We’d love to hear from you!

Kristin Simonetti,
9/14/2011 1:07 PM