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Monday, March 21, 2011

Hispania, March 2010

by Ann Abbott


Yes, I'm reviewing a year-old issue of Hispania. I'm sorry for the delay, especially since the Special Section on "Curricular Changes for Spanish and Portuguese in a New Era" is so pertinent and timely to the curricular innovations I would like to see happen in our Spanish program.

But first, let me mention Bill VanPatten's article, "Some Verbs Are More Perfect than Others: Why Learners Have Difficulty with ser and estar and What It Means for Instruction." I remember reading that article when the issue first arrived in my mailbox and being impressed by the elegance of BVP's writing. I think all academic writers should aspire to write so clearly and engagingly--and I say that as someone who does not do second language acquisition research! (By the way, my post on Bill VanPatten is consistently one of the ten most accessed posts on my blog.)

The special section is a collection of 15 short articles that respond to two MLA reports:

I will highlight very briefly a few of the pieces that I believe will be of interest to readers of this blog.
  • "Promise (Un)fulfilled: Reframing Languages for the Twenty-First Century" by Raquel Oxford inserts ACTFL's work with the "Partnership for 21st Century Skills" within the list of transformative guidelines for our profession. She asserts that, "changes for twenty-first-century skills must form part of the conversation as modifications move forward in the language curriculum." (68). I concur, and I think that CSL in on-line communities and on-line CSL work are important pathways on the mapping of 21st century skills.
  • "A Responsive, Integrative Spanish Curriculum at UNC Charlotte" by Michael S. Doyle details how their program offers translation studies and business content within the undergraduate, Masters and potentially the PhD programs.
  • "El español para fines específicos La proliferación de programas creados para satisfacer las necesidades del siglo XXI¨ by Lourdes Sánchez-López talks about the role of languages for specific purposes (LSP) in the re-envisioning of foreign language curricula. The piece offers a very useful definition of LSP that builds upon language for general purposes courses: "no lo consideramos como una entidad aparte de la enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera, sino como una integración, ampliación o prolongación" (87). Her recommendations are strong and solid, but hinge on professors being willing to prepare themselves to teach outside their comfort zone and in areas that pull them out of the academic world, something that I observed that very, very few faculty--even those within language programs that risk extinction--are willing to entertain.
  • "The Case for a Realistic Beginning-Level Grammar Syllabus: The Round Peg in the Round Hole" by Audrey L. Heining-Boynton argues that we need to abandon the notion that the entire gamut of grammar structures be presented in the first year of students' language studies. As you know from reading this blog, I feel that CSL reveals the gaps in students' language abilities that remain hidden in the classroom (numbers, names, commands, etc.) that should be emphasized more in the language curriculum. They can communicate fine without the pluperfect. But they cannot function in a CSL setting if they cannot give commends.
  • "Where's the Community" by Ethel Jorge states that "though the suggestions [of the two MLA reports] might be far-reaching for many institutions, I believe they do not go far enough for a small liberal arts college such as Pitzer College. In many ways the collaborative satement in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages et al.'s 'Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century' was more visionary because of its recommendation to include student interactions with communities of native speakers in the 'integrative approach...to the major' that the MLA ad hoc committee endorses" (135). She then describes Pitzer's CSL program in compelling language that other Spanish faculty can appreciate.
I'd like to close with a quote from Ethel Jorge's piece that, for me, wraps up quite nicely the difficult nature of change within Spanish programs and the pushback we can expect when we push to enact these curricular changes that look nice on paper, but create real challenges when put into place:

"Undeniably, there are realities that make curricular changes difficult to implement. Among these is the traditional power structure in foreign language departments. ... the entrenchment of permanent faculty in traditional positions; doctoral programs that do not produce new faculty with the broad conceptual background and skills to match emerging needs; and a reward system in academia that has a traditional view of the type of work that counts for promotion and tenure. Also, in recent discussions about the future of foreign language teaching, there are members of professional associations who are thoroughly invested in literary studies. These individuals claim that the introduction of cultural area studies and languages across the curriculum threatens the integrity of the field. They are concerned that foreign language departments will lose their hard-won reputations withing academic circles based on literary studies and will be tarnished by these new intellectual trends" (137).

Our work is hard. Some people say that we want to turn our departments into "service departments." And my feeling is that the people who are the most difficult to engage in conversations about serious curriculum revisions are not even reading these seminal reports nor the Special Section of Hispania. Nor this blog.

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