Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Questions about Incorporating Professional Content in Basic Language Courses

by Ann Abbott

Webinars are a funny thing. You talk to your screen, and you have no idea if anyone is listening! But I did get positive feedback about a webinar I gave yesterday as part of a series that Pearson offered called Speaking About Webinar Week.

My talk was "Student Career Concerns and Aspirations: Integrating Languages for Specific Purposes into Basic Language Programs." The slides for the talks should be available at that page in the next week or so, but I'll include my slides from SlideShare toward the end of this post.

As I was talking, I couldn't see the questions that people were typing. So I wasn't sure if anything I was saying resonated with people. Turns out, it did! I received the list of questions that were posed, which is a good thing because I didn't have a chance to answer them all during the time allotted for the webinar.

I'll answer them here.

First, there were several questions about the activities that I shared. So let me start with just some basic information.

Basic information

  • Level. It was designed for fourth semester Spanish courses, but we have found that it works well in bridge courses, too (you know, that course that is intended to transition students from the basic language program to the major and minor courses). 
  • Book structure. As I said in the webinar, many textbooks dedicate one chapter to careers and professions. Our approach, instead, was to dedicate one half of each chapter to the professional realm. So it comes up over and over, reinforcing the idea that learning Spanish now is important for your future. There are six chapters.
  • Professions. Each chapter focuses on a different profession or professional field. Since there are six chapters there are six fields:
    • Tourism and hospitality.
    • Health professions.
    • Business.
    • Social services/International services.
    • Artistic/Creative fields
    • Education
  • Course syllabus. I'm happy to share my course syllabus and calendar with you. 
  • Hybrid. On my campus, this course is worth four credits, and we teach it as a hybrid. So each week, students spend two hours doing online work from the textbook and together we spend two hours doing communicative, active-learning activities in class. For their online work I assign the following work within MySpanishLab:
    • All the "e" activities within the textbook.
    • All the workbook (or SAM) activities. These activities move from input, to structured output, to short free discourse to longer connected discourse. It gives them good practice with the vocabulary and grammar so that when we do the communicative activities in class, they already know (not perfected, though!) those items and can put them to use. (Right now I'm a little overwhelmed with grading the "free response" activities, so I think I'll handle those differently next time.)
  • Community Service Learning. Because I am a huge proponent of Spanish community service learning, I included it in this course, too. But they only have to do one experience in the community. And the stakes are pretty low (except my best speakers, including heritage speakers, will work at the parent-teacher conferences at a local high school). This is my first time using CSL in the basic language program, so if it all goes well (it is going well so far), I can expand it. You can see the opportunities at this link.
Now, the other questions!

1. Do you interact with other departments/disciplines in regards to teaching professional Spanish at your institution? Is there some team-teaching, etc? Do other language departments at your institution also have a "professional language" approach, or is Spanish the forerunner? Do other languages emphasize other professions?

These are such good, important questions, and here is my sad answer: No.

I do interact with other disciplines because I am part of a campus-wide group of faculty who teach entrepreneurship, but unfortunately there is not much collaboration on teaching, and because everything I do in my teaching is in Spanish, that tends to exclude me.

As for other languages, there might be some feeble attempts going on. This is not meant as an insult to any individual faculty! I only mean this in the sense that it certainly not a departmental priority in any language department that I know of.

2. Do you have any recommendations for Spanish Business Online? Also, have you heard of professional track-oriented majors in Spanish or other languages?

I answered this during the webinar: my friend Prof. Maida Watson at Florida International University teaches Business Spanish online and has resources to share. I encourage you to contact her and to look for her publications on the topic. But if you are interested in Business Spanish in general, I am sharing my weekly lesson plans on my blog. Here's an example with this week's lesson plans. (I need to go back and post some of the earlier weeks.) 

3. Can you recommend a specific text for "Spanish for Health Occupations"? 

I have never taught that course, but I have heard a lot of people use A su salud.

4. Any recommendations for Spanish for Engineers (books or activities)?

No, I don't have any recommendations for that, either. I do know that the University of Rhode Island offers a highly successful International Engineering program that fully integrates language learning. Be sure to check out their program and people.

In general, though, I would approach it this way: I would ask some engineers what their day-to-day activities look like, and I would build my materials that way. In other words, I wouldn't try to teach lots and lots of technical vocabulary in Spanish. Rather, I would focus on things like clear communications within a team; interacting with designers; problem solving; etc.

5. Have you had success promoting this approach as a way to shore up languages at your respective schools? Are colleagues outside of the humanities receptive? Thanks, this was a very helpful webinar. Lots of food for thought.

I'm glad you found it useful! I'm going to be honest, though: until language departments decide to fully embrace languages for specific purposes as a complement to their other courses (not as a replacement), it probably won't do as much as it should to shore up the major. Many places now have a minor in Spanish for X or Spanish for the Professions. But if these kinds of courses are just elective "add-ons" instead of fully contributing to the major, we're still in a precarious situation all the way around. But if you have ideas, I'd love to hear from you.

Contact me!

I'd love to hear more from you and share ideas. You can email me at, call me at the office at 217-333-6714, friend me on Facebook or message me on Twitter (@AnnAbbott).

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