Why Language Centers are More Important Than Ever
It doesn't happen every day or even every month. However, I do hear about Language Centers that are being threatened with being closed much too often. The collapse of the world economy has brought more of these notices to me over the last year. I always try to find out the details of the situation. As IALLT President, I have written many letters of support for IALLT colleagues. IALLT has worked on a new statement to the profession about the need for Language Centers. IALLT is the major group in the world for Language Centers after all.
Since I'm now a department chair (head of World Languages and Cultures at my University for three years and WLAC is the largest department on campus), I now belong to the (U.S.) Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL) and am also IALLT affiliate representative to this group. They have quite an active listserv for department chairs of foreign languages departments. ADFL is associated with MLA and not ACTFL (sorry about these acronyms for non-U.S. readers). So, the major resource for FL dept. chairs is associated with the Modern Language Association (well known for its interest in literature and literary study) and not the American Association of Foreign Language Teachers (which certainly focuses on language teaching as well as culture and literature teaching). I don't want to put too much emphasis on this, but it does seems that FL dept chairs in the U.S. are often quite associated with literature and literary study, too.
So, I wasn't surprised to get this ADFL listserv last Saturday morning from another FL dept. chair:
For a while now my department have been expressing concerns related to
the langauge lab as being obsolete for the students' learning in the age
of omnipresent technology. We would like to transform the space in the
langauge (sic) lab into a place where we can possibly integrate the following:
faculty/students formal/informal interaction
language honor societies meeting places
If you went through a similar process already, would you share with me your ideas?"
Um, IALLTers, I can sense your reaction. The Past-Past-President of IALLT sent me this note within minutes of its being posted. I took a while writing my response to this note and finally posted it Saturday afternoon.
On Monday morning I was very pleased to see another chair had also written a response. This chair wrote to say that his University's Language CENTER (my caps) fulfilled all of the functions the posting's chair was looking for as well as helped with technology support and training. Since he's not an IALLT member, I don't think, (although he might be a regional group member), I won't quote his note.
Here is my response in full, which appeared the same day as his response:
"In reference to the question about Language Centers, I
would like to suggest a different path than eliminating a language
technology center. In fact, I would suggest that enhancing it would
make more sense than eliminating it. The best Language Centers are very
much multimodal. They include areas for group work, tutoring, and
cultural activities. Some include kitchens for making food from target
cultures, even. However, they also include all types of technology that
can be used for individualized instruction as well as group work. One
of the things I've seen over the years is that having a central location
whose job it is to support second language acquisition using technology
and staffed by professionals is one of the most effective aids for
students. If students know that there is a place where they will be
welcomed and receive the very best of help for their language study,
they will make a bee-line for this place.
I'd be glad to give more details about how such a Center can be designed
and staffed. However, let me also give the Chairs a resource they may
not know about. The International Association for Language Learning
Technology (IALLT) is a wonderful group of language technologists who
are very generous in their willingness to help with Language Centers of
all types. This group has its own journal, a variety of publications
which range from a Language Center Design volume (new edition coming out
very soon), a Task-Based Activities volume, a Management Manual, etc.
Its web site is http://www.iallt.org.
And one more link: here is a link to the Center of one of the IALLT board at Notre Dame University. http://cslc.nd.edu/ I think that this Center is a very good example of what is possible.
Very best to all other Chairs,"
Finally, IALLT's (how many times?) Past President, Nina Garrett also posted a note to the same listserv. Here is her response:
"Re language centers: One of the most important functions, which seems not
to have been emphasized so far in this discussion, is professional
development for language-teaching faculty and graduate students -- and not
only the development of tech skills. In many (if not most) of our
institutions language teachers are not tenure-track and receive little if
any support such as workshops, conference travel money, financial support
and staff support for summer projects developing pedagogical materials or
planning new curricula, etc. Graduate students in foreign literature
departments are often told that writing a brilliant dissertation should be
their primary goal and that their teaching is of secondary importance -- but
in job interviews they find that without serious professional development as
language teachers they will be at a disadvantage. Technological
sophistication is a big part of this, and the language center's facilities
need to support work along these lines, but there's much more to it than
And undergraduate students need much more help in understanding what
language learning really entails, and why and how it is essential to an
internationally grounded education -- not just a requirement to be checked
off with minimal effort -- than just being shown how to do web-based
Check out the Center for Language Study at Yale -- *www.cls.yale.edu* -- to
get an idea of the range of activities that a well-supported language center
Retired Director of the Center for Language Study, Yale University
I think all of these notes should give those of you who work in the field of language learning with technology a lot to think about. I certainly believe in a strong center that gives real student and faculty help.
Very best to all, Mike.