Conference Reports

CLS Panel Discussion Re MLA Language Recommendations (Arthur Mitchell)

Report on CLS Panel Discussion Re the MLA Language Recommendations

By Arthur Mitchell

The true effectiveness of language study in cultivating cultural understanding and self-awareness seems to me to be rooted in that thrilling and yet potentially traumatic experience (at least for many Americans) of actually entering into and engaging a community of foreign language speakers. This experience consists, on the one hand, of the struggle of having to use an alternate and unfamiliar system for producing and comprehending meaning and, on the other, the subtle transformations of the self that necessarily occur through the assimilation of this alternate system. To the extent that language education ignores the experience of speaking the foreign language within the foreign society, to the extent that it discounts the transformational impact of engaging a foreign community within its own language – i.e. the way that language is constitutive through its instrumentality – it forfeits the most important cultural lessons that language learning has to offer.