Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Skype Visit with Diana Ruggiero's Graduate Class on Languages for Specific Purposes

by Ann Abbott

I was delighted when I received this invitation from Prof. Diana Ruggiero of the University of Memphis a couple of weeks ago:
First Happy Birthday Ann! My students in  my graduate course on how to teach Spanish for LSP read your article ad would love to see you! So we invite you next Wednesday Feb 11 at 3:30 CST to join us via SKYPE or FT to talk about your article and to meet you! We would love to talk to you! Again, felicidades y ojalá nos veamos pronto. Diana
Abbott, Annie. "Social Entrepreneurship and Community Service Learning: Building Sustainable Non-profits and Language Programs." Specialised Languages in the Global Village. Eds., Carmen Perez-Llantada and Maida Watson. Cambridge Scholars. 2011.​
Of course I said yes, and this afternoon I had a chance to talk Diana and her lovely students.

I began with a quick introduction, telling Diana's students that I think my work in general and that article in particular as part of discourse about the changing face and role of Spanish departments in the United States. Just this morning, my friend and colleague Prof. Gillian Lord at the University of Florida was quoted in an Inside Higher Ed piece about declining enrollments in foreign languages--including Spanish, for the first time ever. I was particularly struck by this line: "Lord said she also thought that Spanish and other programs had some modernizing to do."  

I totally agree. And I think part of that modernizing is offering students rigorous content, in Spanish, about topics not traditionally offered in a Spanish department (i.e., literature and linguistics). 

We then turned it over to the students and their questions. Honestly, I thought they would ask me questions about social entrepreneurship and the business concepts I cover. But no. Their questions were different, insightful and challenging. I loved them all!

  • How do students respond to a course like social entrepreneurship?
  • Since I teach entrepreneurship as a process, not just a final product, how do I teach students the patience and persistence you need whenever you tackle an entrepreneurial project? In other words, in a culture that wants things easy and quick, how do you teach them about failure, frustrations and knocking on door after door that gets shut in your face?
  • What do I think a Spanish program should look like?
  • Isn't it a problem that professors and community members come from very different realities, very different perspectives? How can faculty be "engaged" when they are so different from many of the community members? (My answer: focus on problem solving, focus on a project, focus on collaborating, and that will unite faculty and community members.)
  • This kind of engaged teaching takes time, energy and money, yet departments and colleges don't want to give money for community service learning. How do you handle that?
  • How do you teach in this way to students who don't have a sense of engagement, solidarity, community, communal work.
Then Diana asked me if I had any questions for them. I did!
  • Do you feel like you could teach a course on social entrepreneurship? 
Yes, they said. They'd like to take the course first, then teach it. And when I said that many people feel like they can't teach a course in languages for specific purposes if they haven't been specifically trained in that area (business, medicine, etc.), one of the students said, "You learn!"

Yes. You learn.

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