The Catholic University of America

Dec. 3, 2010

Foreign Language: Beyond the Course Requirement

  Anamaria Banu, a new clinical assistant professor, with her Review of Elementary French students. She will teach Intensive Beginning French in the spring semester.


There are “sweeping changes” in CUA’s language offerings, says Lourdes Alvarez, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and associate professor of Spanish. Some of the most prominent changes — new intensive courses and experience-based courses — are being introduced in the 2011 spring semester, she adds.

The increased commitment to making foreign language more accessible to greater numbers of students is a university-wide initiative, says Alvarez.

Language is an important foundation to a college education, according to CUA’s Provost James Brennan. “When students learn a foreign language, they become more self-confident and gain a deep-rooted understanding of places in the world beyond America. Becoming fluent in another language is a profound experience. It changes a person,” says Brennan.

Learning a foreign language can also help students in the workforce. “The world of work of the 21st century is clearly international,” says Brennan. “To understand how a person thinks, you need to understand the person’s language. People who enter the marketplace of the future with language facility, no matter what the career path, will have the clear advantage.”

Most students at CUA have a language requirement within their field of study. “We want to go beyond the course requirement,” says Alvarez. “Our goal is to increase the number of students who are pursuing language beyond the minimum requirement, who are attaining a useful level of foreign language that is professionally and personally satisfying.”

To help achieve that goal, CUA has several new initiatives in place for the spring semester:

New Course Offerings
Among the new classes offered this coming spring are: Intensive Beginning Chinese, Intensive Modern Standard Arabic, Portuguese for Spanish Speakers, Intensive Beginning French, and Intensive Beginning German. These new 3- and 6-credit courses are aimed at getting students on the fast track to becoming fluent, according to Alvarez.

Many of these languages have been offered at CUA for some time; what is different is the intensive nature of the new offerings. An additional section of Intensive Intermediate Spanish has also been added to the spring language offerings to better meet student demand. The department is also offering a new introductory class this spring, Introduction to Spoken Gaelic and Irish Culture.

All but one of the new classes is offered through the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Modern Standard Arabic is offered through the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures. That department has long offered a class on classical Arabic that appealed to graduate students. Given current world events, there is high demand for this undergraduate class for students of all majors who want to understand the language as it is spoken today.

New 1-Credit Experience-Based Electives
Four new classes offer students the opportunity to work on a language while learning a new skill. For instance in an Italian cooking class, the students are cooking with an instructor who is speaking in Italian. They learn the Italian word for “chop” as they are chopping, says Alvarez. The modern languages department is also offering French Theater, German Theater and Flamenco Dancing with a Spanish teacher.

These classes are offered in the spring as a pilot program, with the plan to offer more experience-based electives in future semesters.

Additional Full-Time Faculty
“We have a big infusion of new positions in Modern Languages,” says Alvarez. Many adjunct and part-time instructors in the department have been replaced by full-time faculty from a wide variety of international backgrounds. The department has teachers from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Ivory Coast, Martinque, Morocco, Paraguay, Romania, Sweden, and of course the United States.

“We are no doubt the most international group on campus,” says Alvarez.

As CUA continues to make language development a priority for all students, Alvarez says the benefits are clear. “Students with language skills are at an advantage not just in international relations jobs, but in the business world in general, whether it be government jobs, law firms or nonprofit organizations,” says Alvarez.

“But language skills also help facilitate the work of those who are committed to community service in underserved areas in the United States and internationally. And that fits the mission of CUA so well.”

“Language opens students’ eyes, hearts, and minds to life in other parts of the world, and truly allows them to experience a new culture,” says Alvarez. “All of us at CUA share the hope that introducing students to the richness and complexities of other cultures can help foster greater understanding and respect the world over.”

To learn more about CUA’s new language offerings, contact the Department of Languages and Literatures at 202-319-5240.


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