Foreign language study is widely recognized as a practical and intellectually stimulating way for students to both broaden their knowledge and understanding of the world and build strong communication skills. By engaging with speakers of other languages and by exploring other cultures through a variety of cultural productions, Allegheny students learn to think critically and creatively about language itself and cultural debates in different parts of the world, preparing themselves for careers in the increasingly global marketplace or for graduate studies that build on their work here at Allegheny.
The strength of our programs allows even students who start a language for the first time here at Allegheny to attain the Learning outcomes below. For students with previous experience in a language who would like to continue it here, course placement is based on placement tests taken before you enroll in your first language course at Allegheny. This is designed to let students take advantage of the skills they already have in the language, while still getting the solid foundation necessary for upper-level courses in our program. The department offers majors in French and Spanish and minors in Arabic, French, German, and Spanish. Interdisciplinary minors with a language component are available in Chinese Studies, Classical Studies (Latin), Latin American and Caribbean Studies (Spanish), and Middle East & North African Studies (Arabic). Proficiency in a foreign language is also an integral part of the International Studies major. In addition, courses in American Sign Language (ASL) and Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) are available. Although differences among the languages and cultures that we teach create some variation among sections, what follows represents the principles that our Department holds in common.
We believe that a strong liberal arts language curriculum should integrate language and culture 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 deep reflection on the interdependence of language and culture, reflected in the inherent connections between language and culture of the various countries and regions where each language is spoken.
So, starting in our introductory courses, culture is deeply integrated in students’ experience with the language, and while historical, political, and cultural information become increasingly important as students progress through our program, language study remains an integral part of upper-level courses. All of our teaching methods and styles can be called communicative and conceptual–we emphasize communication and using culture as a context for that communication. At the earlier levels, we focus on more concrete examples of cultural usage, and cultural contexts become more complex as students progress. Through this approach, students gain the necessary tools for solving complex problems of understanding and expression and for achieving a high level of proficiency in the language.
At the advanced levels, we embrace a broad definition of “culture.” The cultural elements students encounter in our courses include not only high culture (such as literary and philosophical texts) but also visual arts and cinema, political and social life, cultural history, institutions, and other manifestations of cultural values. Literature is increasingly taught within this broader cultural context to highlight interrelations between the arts and other aspects of society. In these advanced courses, we expect students to practice the integration of linguistic skill and cultural knowledge. Students study, research, and analyze abstract problems and think critically about their reading. In order to communicate the results of this work, they use language at an advanced level and engage with abstract concepts related to the culture of their target language.
Our goals for our minors contribute to the broader liberal arts curriculum by preparing students to approach the world in a way that takes them beyond their major field. Therefore, we expect minors to develop a facility with the language that allows them to apply their knowledge of language and culture to other content areas. For example, we expect students to gain insight into how language functions as a system and to be able to apply that insight to the learning of other languages or to their own use of their native language. In addition, it is our goal that minors understand political, social, and cultural phenomena of the regions that use the language they have studied, allowing them to engage with culture and across cultures in the discipline of their major. In doing so, we expect that students also acquire an awareness of their own culture not as a “default,” but as one way among many of being in the world.
Majors, of course, reap all the benefits of the minor, and then go beyond it. For majors, he Senior Project is the capstone experience. A successful thesis requires extensive research, demonstration of advanced language skills and cultural knowledge, critical analysis, organization, and effective argumentation. This project is substantial: language majors must submit a thesis of at least 30 pages on a topic related to the target culture; for double majors, the foreign language component of the thesis must be at least 20 pages and integrate a question related to the target culture in the overall topic of the thesis. We 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 the study abroad experience. The linguistic and cultural immersion provided by this experience greatly enhances the acquisition of linguistic competence and is essential to gaining a deep understanding of a different culture. Allegheny’s International Education office can connect students with our Sponsored Programs, which have been carefully selected by Department faculty to integrate easily with our majors and minors.
Students who have successfully completed our 100-level courses can:
- understand the main idea and important information in short and straightforward informational or fictional texts or short spoken conversations;
- exchange information in simple conversations on familiar topics;
- interact with others to meet basic needs in familiar situations;
- communicate basic information about their life, activities, preferences, and knowledge, and inquire about those of others;
- identify the country or countries where the target language is spoken, with some more specific geographical knowledge;
- demonstrate an awareness of aspects of contemporary culture in one or more of these regions, such as cultural differences related to food, meals, university life, family life, holidays, celebrations, travel, monetary systems, and leisure activities;
- describe differences in expectations for everyday interactions between the target culture and the students’ own culture;
- identify some emblematic cultural personalities and artifacts from the target culture(s).
Students who have successfully completed our 200-level courses can:
- understand the main message, story, or flow of events in longer informational or fictional texts and conversations about the past, present, and future;
- exchange information in conversations on a wider range of topics than after the 100 level;
- interact functionally with others in a wider variety of situations than after the 100 level;
- communicate more complex information about their activities, preferences, feelings, knowledge, and opinions than after the 100 level, and inquire about those of others;
- converse with peers from the target culture on familiar topics, showing interest in cultural differences and avoiding major social blunders stemming from those differences;
- demonstrate a deeper understanding than after the 100 level of the geography of countries and regions where the target language is spoken;
- demonstrate familiarity with political or governmental institutions in one or more region(s) where the target language is spoken;
- identify some key events or periods in the history of one or more region(s) where the target language is spoken;
- identify and give basic interpretation of one or more production(s) (literature, film, etc.) of the target culture.
Students who have successfully completed our Minors can:
- understand subtler messages and supporting details in informational or fictional texts and conversations about the past, present and future;
- exchange information in conversation at greater length on a wider range of topics than after the 200 level;
- interact functionally with others in a wider variety of more complex situations than after the 200 level;
- communicate and explain at greater length more complex information about their activities, preferences, feelings, knowledge, and opinions than after the 200 level, and inquire about those of others;
- converse with others from the target culture on a wider range of topics than after the 200 level, showing knowledge of cultural differences and an interest in continuing to learn;
- describe, explain, and comment about a range of topics related to the countries and regions where target language is spoken;
- demonstrate an awareness of the institutions, politics, geography, and history of the countries and regions where the target language is spoken
- identify some significant personalities and cultural productions in the target culture(s), and offer interpretations and opinions pertaining to them.
Students who have successfully completed our Majors (including the Senior Project) can:
- understand and interpret complex fictional and informational texts, including academic texts in their area of study, with nuance;
- follow the flow of ideas in conversations and discussions including a variety of topics and viewpoints;
- compose a substantial discussion in writing about a complex topic pertaining to the target culture, incorporating the fruits of research with their own ideas into a clear and cohesive argument;
- discuss, spontaneously and at length, a complex topic pertaining to the target culture;
- interact functionally with others to solve problems involving unexpected complications;
- tell stories based on their experiences and express personal opinions with supporting rationales;
- maintain extended conversations about their own activities, preferences, opinions, ideas, and emotions, and those of others;
- converse with others from the target culture on a wide range of topics, showing knowledge of cultural differences and adjusting behavior appropriately in response;
- demonstrate an understanding of the institutions, politics, geography, and history of the countries and regions where the target language is spoken;
- identify a range of significant personalities and cultural productions in the target culture(s), situate them in cultural context, and offer interpretations and opinions pertaining to them.