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Why Aren’t We a Part of This?

Over the years the College has lost its pre-eminence in language instruction. As usual, the culprit is a lack of leadership. Rather than becoming a national center for teaching languages, with members of the faculty dedicated to studying language pedagogy (rather than literature) and statistically proving the evident effectiveness of the Rassias Method, Dartmouth is now small time in the language teaching world. This is an area where imagination could have propelled us to the top ranks, and ensured that John Rassias’ inspiration became the standard for foreign language instruction around the world. Investments could have been put in place, the right people hired and given tenure; in short, a Kemeny-like bet could have made.

It didn’t happen. And so we are now a bystander in the field. When three Ivies get together to innovate in language pedagogy, we should not only have been among them, we should have been the leader. But, no. We are not a part of this innovative group. From Inside Higher Education:

Columbia, Cornell, Yale to Collaborate on Languages

Yale Languages.jpgColumbia, Cornell and Yale Universities have announced an expansion of a program to teach less commonly taught languages at the three institutions. The universities are using live videoconferencing with small classes (limited to 12 each) out of the belief that these class sizes are best suited to language instruction. The program started with Romanian, elementary Dutch and elementary Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and has since expanded to other languages. A new grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will allow for further expansion. This fall, the universities added courses in Bengali, Indonesian, Modern Greek, Tamil, Yoruba and Zulu. And in the fall of 2013, they plan to add courses in Khmer, Sinhala, Polish and Vietnamese.

In this area, too, the College could have been great.

Addendum: One way in which the College could lead the Ivies again is by making a College-run language study or foreign study program mandatory for all undergrads — as we have long suggested. When done well, these small programs can provide an unforgettable intellectual and cultural experience for students. My sense is that the 40% of undergrads who don’t take LSA or FSP terms are the ones in most need of their benefits.


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