Learning Outcomes

The curriculum of the modern languages taught in the Department of Modern & Classical Languages is designed to build proficiency and understanding in three major areas (for Latin, please see “Classical Studies Outcomes” to the right):

1) communication and practical use of language
2) mastery of structural components and cognitive elements of language
3) literary and cultural dimensions of language

We believe that a successful liberal arts curriculum should integrate these three areas of focus at all levels. While practical communication and mastery of linguistic structures are essential, the trademark of language learning within the context of the liberal arts is its focus on the interdependence of language and culture. This interdependence is reflected in the inherent connections between language and the intellectual history of the various countries and regions where each language is spoken and in the expression of contemporary cultural values. We have outlined below the general principles that are common to the curricula of all sections within the department. Some of the specific methods and strategies used by each section are further detailed on the pages for each language and may be found by using the menu links.

In order to facilitate increasing proficiency in communication and mastery of structure, we generally rely on the guidelines published by ACTFL (The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). They apply to the four skills of speaking, writing, aural comprehension, and reading and describe in detail the types of tasks speakers and writers must perform to attain each proficiency level, from novice to superior. Since most beginning and intermediate textbooks are also designed to teach and evaluate the mastery of increasingly complex and abstract linguistic use, we can effectively design courses with these specific objectives in mind.

One specific strategy used across all sections of departmental modern languages to achieve these goals is the use of the target language at all levels. From the beginning to the advanced levels, the target language is used either exclusively or almost exclusively in all courses. Our language courses are offered three times per week. One or two additional period(s) of instruction and discussion per week (live lab) are part of the course work and taught by our international teaching assistants or advanced students.

While these guidelines are extremely useful for meeting our goals in areas 1) and 2) as listed above, they are not sufficient for describing the desired outcome related to area 3). We must therefore also design our courses to meet these more academic and intellectual goals associated specifically with the liberal arts.

Due to the academic nature of our curriculum and its focus on cultural understanding and critical thinking, we have tailored the ACTFL guidelines to suit our own curricular objectives and needs for teaching modern languages. We introduce more complex grammatical structures within the first two years of learning than would be expected if we adhered strictly to them. This prepares students to deal with literary and cultural materials containing such structures by the middle to end of the second year. They may not yet be able to actively use and manipulate complex constructions and literary tenses, but they are taught to recognize and understand them in order to further their intellectual growth.

There are a variety of teaching methods and styles used in our courses by the individual sections, but all can be called communicative and conceptual. We do not embrace one particular method, but all methods used rely heavily on communication and on using culture as a context for that communication. At the lower levels, more concrete examples of cultural usage are emphasized, and these contexts become more complex as students progress. Another common principle seen in all sections is a renewed focus on culture at the more advanced levels. In the recent past, culture has become more broadly defined to include not only high culture, primarily literary texts in our discipline, but also cultural history, intellectual history and other manifestations of cultural values, arts such as cinema, and political institutions. Literature is increasingly taught within this broader cultural context which may highlight interrelations between the arts and other aspects of cultural history.

In our most advanced courses, such as senior seminars and the senior project, we expect students to practice the integration of these three types of skills and knowledge. As in other disciplines, they are expected to study, research, and analyze abstract problems, and to think critically about their reading. At the same time, they are communicating and manipulating linguistic structures at an advanced level and learning abstract concepts related to the culture of their target language.

The Senior Project is the capstone experience for every major. A successful thesis requires extensive research, demonstration of all language skills, critical analysis, organization, and effective argumentation. We have revised the guidelines for the senior project to make the rules more equitable for single majors in comparison to double majors. The major change is a decrease in length of the thesis for single majors (30pps) and an increase in length of the foreign language part for double majors (20pps). We continue to see the senior project and its oral defense as a means of demonstrating mastery of all of the skills and knowledge acquired during the student’s undergraduate career.

The final principle shared by all sections in the department is the importance of study abroad. The linguistic and cultural immersion provided by this experience greatly enhances the acquisition of linguistic competence and is essential to gaining a real understanding of a different culture. Professors in each language have worked to create programs with easily transferrable courses that speak directly to our majors.

Learning Outcomes

The following summary outlines the learning outcomes for cognitive, cultural, and language proficiency expected from first year students, second year students, minors and majors studying a modern language in the Modern and Classical Languages Department. This summary takes into account the fact that students learn the specific content of their individual courses not listed in this framework that vary across languages/areas of study. For curricular objectives specific to each language, please see the links below.

First Year Students
Language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines after first year of instruction:
Reading: Intermediate-Mid
Listening: Intermediate-Mid
Writing: Intermediate-Low
Speaking: Intermediate-Low

Cognitive and cultural proficiency of countries and regions where target language is spoken:
* Basic knowledge of the geography of the country or countries being studied
* Specific knowledge of several different regions and their distinctive characteristics
* Familiarity with the country or countries where the target language is spoken
* Concrete aspects of contemporary culture, such as cultural differences related to food, meals, university life, family life, holidays, celebrations, travel, monetary systems, leisure activities, etc.
* Ways people act and react differently in relating to other people. Examples include expectations when dealing with merchants, government employees, etc
* Initial exposure to emblematic cultural personalities and artifacts

Second Year Students
Language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines after second year of instruction:
Reading: Intermediate-High
Listening: Intermediate-High
Writing: Intermediate-Mid
Speaking: Intermediate-Mid

Cognitive and cultural proficiency of countries and regions where target language is spoken:
* Increasing knowledge and detail in the areas listed for first year students
* A rudimentary knowledge of societal and government institutions
* Some knowledge of other historical periods
* Knowledge of some specific literary texts from different genre and their cultural and historical context
* Some ability to analyze and interpret basic literary texts

What follows are our broader learning outcomes and expectations for students that minor or major in the department, taking into account language proficiency, cultural literacy, and critical thinking skills.

The Minor in Modern Languages
Our goals for a minor in language respond to the broader liberal arts curriculum of preparing students to approach information from a field beyond their major field. Therefore, we expect minors to develop a facility with the language to be able to apply their knowledge of language and culture to other content areas. For example, we expect students to know how language functions as a system and to therefore be able to apply the systematic concepts they have acquired (mechanics) to the learning of other languages or to their own use of their native language. In addition, it is our goal that minors know and can comment upon recent political and cultural phenomena surrounding the regions that use the language they have learned. In doing so, we expect that students also acquire an awareness of their own culture as different.

Expected language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines for a student who completes a minor:
Speaking: Intermediate-mid to Intermediate-high
Listening: Intermediate-high to Advanced
Reading: Advanced
Writing: Intermediate-high to Advanced

Cognitive and cultural proficiency of countries and regions where target language is spoken:
* Increasing knowledge and detail in the areas listed for second year students
* An awareness of recent cultural and political developments in studied regions
* Knowledge of some cultural personalities, such as major writers, artists, important historical figures, etc.

Major in Modern Languages
Expected language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines for a student who does a major:
Speaking: Intermediate-High (minimum) to Advanced-plus
Listening: Advanced to Superior
Reading: Advanced to Advanced-plus
Writing: Advanced to Superior

Cognitive and cultural proficiency of countries and regions where target language is spoken:
* Increasing knowledge and detail in the areas listed for students with a minor
* An understanding of the broader historical background and perspectives on major events
* Familiarity with several major cultural, political, and/or literary movements

The Department expects majors to demonstrate these abilities through presenting a comprehensive research project. In order to do so, they must demonstrate a more complex knowledge of both language and their area of study than a student completing a minor. For example, we expect students to be able to place cultural phenomena within particular cultural (major periods) and historical contexts. We measure the students’ ability to think critically with the tools that they have acquired through the study of language and culture about information they have obtained through research, textual interpretation, and the application of an analytical framework. In this project, students demonstrate an ACTFL proficiency level of at minimum Intermediate High (speaking) and Advanced (writing) levels, but the most successful projects will use skills associated with the Advanced and Superior level of language use, albeit within a very controlled environment.