Philosophy & Learning Outcomes

Click to expand photo of Wilfredo drawing on chalkboardForeign language study is widely recognized as both a practical and intellectually stimulating way for students to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the world around us and to build a strong foundation of skills in oral and written communication. By engaging with speakers of other languages, and by exploring other cultures through literature and other media, Allegheny students learn to think more critically and creatively about language itself and cultural debates in different parts of the world as they prepare themselves for careers in the increasingly global marketplace or for advanced studies in literature or language.

At the advanced level, the department favors an integrated approach to language learning. While historical, political and cultural information become increasingly important, structural and grammatical components remain crucial so that students gain the necessary tools for solving problems of understanding and expression encountered in the discipline and for achieving a high level of proficiency in the language.

The department offers majors and minors in French and Spanish and minors in Chinese, German, and Latin. Interdisciplinary minors with a language component are available in Chinese Studies, Classical Studies (Latin), French Studies, 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 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) are available through the Center for Language and Culture (CLC).

Course placement for those with previous study (except Arabic) is based upon achievement tests or examinations administered at the time of entry. Exemptions to the placement test results will be based on individual consultation with the instructor.

Among courses involving the sequential buildup of language skills, credit cannot be earned in a less advanced course after successful completion of one at a higher level without the permission of the Department.

Learning Outcomes

The curriculum of the Department of Modern & Classical Languages is designed to build proficiency and understanding in three major areas:

  • Communication and practical use of language
  • Mastery of structural components and cognitive elements of language;
  • 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.

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, students 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. Language majors must submit a thesis of at least 30 pages; for double majors, the foreign language component of the thesis must be at least 20 pages. 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.

The following summary outlines the learning outcomes for cognitive, cultural, and language proficiency expected from first- year students, second-year students, minors, and majors in the Modern and Classical Languages Department.

Modern Languages Learning Outcomes for First-Year Students

  1. Language proficiency according to guidelines from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign languages (ACTFL) after first year of instruction:
    • Reading: Intermediate-Mid
    • Listening: Intermediate-Mid
    • Writing: Intermediate-Low
    • Speaking: Intermediate-Low
  2. Cognitive and cultural proficiency of countries and regions where target language is spoken:
    1. Basic knowledge of the geography of the country or countries being studied
    2. Specific knowledge of several different regions and their distinctive characteristics
    3. Familiarity with the country or countries where the target language is spoken
    4. 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.
    5. Ways people act and react differently in relating to other people. Examples include expectations when dealing with merchants, government employees, etc.
    6. Initial exposure to emblematic cultural personalities and artifacts

Modern Language Learning Outcomes for Second-Year Students

  1. Language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines after second year of instruction:
    • Reading: Intermediate-High
    • Listening: Intermediate-High
    • Writing: Intermediate-Mid
    • Speaking: Intermediate-Mid
  2. 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

Learning Outcomes for Minors in Modern Languages

Expected language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines for a student who completes a minor:

  1. Speaking: Intermediate-Mid to Intermediate-High
  2. Listening: Intermediate-High to Advanced
  3. Reading: Advanced
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Learning Outcomes for Majors in Modern Languages

Expected language proficiency according to ACTFL guidelines for a student who does a major:

  1. Speaking: Intermediate-High (minimum) to Advanced-Plus
  2. Listening: Advanced to Superior
  3. Reading: Advanced to Advanced-Plus
  4. 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 that places cultural phenomena within particular cultural (major periods) and historical contexts. 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.