Consortium for Language Teaching & Learning at Brown University (Laura Chiesa)

Report on the Consortium for Language Teaching & Learning at Brown University: Reassessing the Foreign Language Curriculum in the Age of Globalization (Responses to the MLA Report on Foreign Languages and Higher Education)

By Laura Chiesa

The intellectual vitality of this conference was, to me, quite new to this kind of venue, a real event that addressed the spirit of the recent MLA Report. The presenters’ ability to show new directions were to me in a perfect balance between attentiveness to what the Age of Globalization implies and inventiveness about new ways to teach within specific target cultures (in tune with the MLA Report, which aims for a “more coherent curriculum in which language, culture and literature are taught as a continuous whole,” and in relation to translingual, transcultural and interdisciplinary competencies).

In actively confronting today’s challenge of how to teach in the Era of Globalization, very different and specific teaching projects and reflections sprang from the conference. The first paper that I could attend was the one delivered by Clara Yu. It was a great start for my full immersion in the reassessment of “Language Learning in the New Century”, with Yu critically comparing the imbalance between the languages that are spoken in the world today and the ones that are learned at the college level. Having myself lived for a long time in Europe, I was enriched by the refreshing transcultural projects, presented by Hans Lauge Hansen, created between an European network of academic institutions and other countries (such as Latin American institutions). The core of what Hansen presented was that language is clearly learned within a set of critical terms such as citizenship, modernization, environmental sustainability, economic growth and trade in the global market.

The political, historical and literary questions at stake in our profession and in relation to foreignness were clearly brought to my mind both by the touching, educated and transcultural keynote address given by Ha Jin (writer and a professor himself) and by the presentation delivered by Elizabeth Welles, who gave a sharply and synthetically historical perspective on the way learning of foreign cultures, which has been articulated in the United States since the 1960s. I really enjoyed Margery Resnick’s presentation: she presented a well-designed new course on the themes of globalization, which will be taught at MIT next semester by several professors coming from different disciplines. Innovative pedagogical projects that intersect meaningfully with technology were presented from a wide range of  academic spectrums. I can mention the “hard-ware” special international program instituted between the School of Engineering at the University of Rhode Island and institutions in France, Germany and Spain; the clear and open-source structure of the advanced Spanish course created by James Crapotta using networked telecommunication; and the project in progress being coordinated by lectors at Columbia and Princeton, from which springs the genuine hope to use web-based structures as open sources for sharing innovative pedagogical ideas among the community of instructors.

In the final panel, “The Way Forward,” Michael Geisler, Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, Scott McGinnis and Roger Allen brought together their brilliant innovative experiences into this changing open field, synthesizing the quest for renewal and reassessment of the foreign language curriculum.

I plan to closely read the printed texts and e-texts (and other web-based materials) by the presenters, reflecting upon their specific proposals to improve my own teaching methods, and I am looking forward to attending more of this kind of meeting. . . . I am sure that here at Yale there will be opportunities to promote further illuminating discussions among the incredible core of faculty.

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