Languages across the Curriculum and Latin American Historians

CLAH Newsletter, vol. 33, no. 2 (Spring 1997)

Teaching and Teaching Materials Committee – Languages across the Curriculum and Latin American Historians

The various Languages across the Curriculum projects now operating at universities across the United States offer exciting possibilities for historians who are committed to teaching. Language across the Curriculum programs are designed to give student s the chance to study different academic disciplines in a second language. Typically, a course taught in English, such as a history survey, is paired with a one-hour section taught entirely in a target language. Many of the Language across the Curriculum programs developed out of departments of Languages and Literatures with the aim of enriching the students’ study of language; such programs have great benefits for those of us teaching in fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

In most American universities, the institutional structure of distinct departments (History, Art History, Economics, Modern Languages and Literatures, etc.) has the unfortunate effect of creating an artificial gulf between language study and the many and varied disciplines in which languages are used. This compart-mentalization sends the message to students that languages are studied in some departments and subjects are studied in others. Yet, language study needs to be vital and imper ative to all students and not simply to language majors. In an effort to break down the artificial barriers separating subject study from language study and to explicitly integrate the two, Languages across the Curriculum programs were born .

Trinity is an institution that focuses almost exclusively on undergraduate education and that values creative, sustained, and focused teaching. As we asked ourselves how can we prepare our students for the uncer-tainties of the next century, and how c an we respond to our students’ motivations, aspirations, and expectations, we came to the conclusion that we must provide our students with a first-rate education that is both pragmatic and personally enriching. An interdisciplinary group of faculty co mmitted to the premise that language learning is essential to our students’ education developed an interdisciplinary Languages across the Curriculum program for Trinity.

At Trinity, Spanish across the Curriculum is the first fruit of the Languages across the Curriculum initiative. It exposes students to professional and academic Spanish in a variety of academic disciplines. Over three summers, faculty developed eight courses in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences. These are not full three credit hour courses, as is the norm, but one-hour courses that meet once per week for one hour. Some of the one-hour courses are taught by faculty from the Spanish depar tment and are paired with courses taught in English in departments such as History. For example, students may enroll in my Latin American Perspectives history course as well as in Pablo Martínez’s Perspectivas contemporáneas de Am érica Latina. Other Spanish across the Curriculum courses are taught by native speakers, or faculty fluent in Spanish, as independent courses. The topics of these courses range from La economía mexicana, taught by Jorge Gonz&aac ute;lez in the Economics Department to La telenovela en América Latina taught Robert Huesca in the Communications Department to Ecología en América Latina, taught by Roberto Hasfura of the Math Department. Studen ts learn in Spanish the vocabulary, terminology, and concepts used in academic or professional disciplines and read from scholarly or professional works published in Spanish. Students may earn certification by completing two courses offered by the Spanis h Language and Literature faculty (Advanced Grammar and an upper division elective) and four Spanish across the Curriculum courses. This certification not only encourages students to take advantage of the courses, but may be used as preparation for gradu ate study as well as professional work in Spanish-speaking countries.

The advantages of Spanish across the Curriculum for students are clear. The courses offer students an opportunity to learn and use Spanish outside of traditional language and literature classes. The courses are particularly helpful for students retu rning from study abroad and who wish to maintain their Spanish. Spanish across the Curriculum certification sends a message to students that their language skills are valued and necessary. But most importantly, students who speak and read Spanish well a re far more likely to fully appreciate the complexities of Latin American history. Such students will leave the university with a richer understanding of Latin America that will quite possibly affect the rest of their professional lives.

Languages across the Curriculum courses also benefit faculty. The interdisciplinary interaction between faculty teaching paired courses can generate new ideas that can be incorporated into subsequent teaching and research. Languages across the Curricu lum visibly reminds faculty and administrators of the crucial need for language learning at all levels of American education.
Trinity received help in conceptualizing its Languages across the Curriculum program by participating in the Spreading the Word II project coordinated by the American Council on Education. The implementation of the program was supported by a Na tional Endowment for the Humanities Focus Grant (1996-1997) and Trinity’s own Office of Academic Affairs. For more information on Languages across the Curriculum, see the website at Brown University: http://www/

Alida C. Metcalf, Trinity U.