Op/Ed: Modern foreign language programs don’t prepare students for the work force – The University of Alberta example

August 19, 2013

Warning: This post may offend literary scholars and literary theorists.

One of Canada’s most reputable institutions of higher learning, the University of Alberta, announced today that it is cutting 20 arts programs. Languages and culture programs are taking the brunt of the cuts. Included in the cuts are undergraduate major programs in classic languages, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian. A full list of the cut programs can be found here.

For years I’ve said to my colleagues that languages programs that focus mainly on literature and culture are doomed. I agree that there is immense value in learning literature and culture, but the reality is that it won’t get you a job — unless you want to become a literature professor.

Employers looks at people with literature degrees and ask themselves, “What can you do for us?”

I remember sitting in a department meeting 15 years ago asking if we could incorporate courses in foreign languages for business and commerce?

My colleagues who were literature experts hissed at me. I became an instant heretic. The suggestion was tantamount to treason in a department where the senior professors were literary scholars.

I was proposing specifically that we incorporate language and culture courses of a more practical nature that students could use as viable and marketable professional skills to position themselves for success in the global job market.

Consider the difference between these two scenarios:

Scenario #1:

Prospective Employer: So, I see you did a major in Italian. Tell me more about that.

Italian major graduate: I learned about Dante, Petrarch and major Italian literature, along with grammar, structure and syntax.

Prospective Employer: How would you use what you learned on the job?

Italian major graduate: I’m not really sure…

This is the reality of most modern language majors today. They learn about literature, culture, art and history, but without concrete skills that are easily transferred to the work place. Employers can’t make those links either. The value that languages major brings to an organization have never been made explicit.

(In case you  think I’m exaggerating about the kinds of topics Italian majors learn about, I took my example from the current University of Alberta web page on Italian studies course offerings, though I suspect the web page will be defunct before too long…)

Scenario #2:

Prospective Employer: So, I see you did a major in Italian. Tell me more about that.

Italian major graduate: Unlike traditional programs in modern languages, the one I took was modernized to include courses in Italian business language and professional culture. The courses I took introduced me to fundamental business language in Italian so I can converse more easily with clients, as well as understand how business is conducted in Italy, including cultural norms and social expectations in the Italian workplace. I also took courses in current issues that included a survey of key political and economic factors that allows me to understand the situation in Italy today, as well as where it is headed tomorrow.

The value that this graduate would bring to an organization is much greater. It is difficult to internalize the nuances of foreign business practices. It goes beyond knowing how to dress or greet one another. The subtleties are vast and almost impossible to learn without guidance — for any foreign culture.

I say this as someone with two degrees — a bachelor’s and a Master’s — in literature. I loved studying literature. It goes without saying that we need to teach students critical thinking skills and that learning about culture is important to understand the human race. I learned first hand what it meant to live under the poverty line for a number of years in my adult life. My degrees in literature did not prepare me for the work force. I had to learn to market my skills in other ways. Only then was I able to pull myself ahead of the low-income cut-off (LICO) line. It was a long road and one that my colleagues with full-time tenured positions as literature professors are unlikely to understand.

The days of the self-indulgent scholar are quickly coming to an end. The romanticized version of a scholar puzzling over pile of ancient texts is quickly fading. I’m not suggesting there is no value in learning ancient texts and literature. I’m saying that surrounding yourself with ancient texts is not a viable career option for most language and culture students of the 21st century.

For years literary theorists in institutions of higher learning have stubbornly refused to entertain the idea of expanding modern language and culture programs beyond literature. We could call it professional hubris. The repercussions are that modern foreign language programs are now being cut. It makes me feel sad, but I can’t help wondering if international language programs that focus solely on literature and art aren’t doing a disservice to their graduates?

Imagine what would happen if we taught our students how to navigate cultural differences in the workplace, adapt to global professional environments and learn basic workplace vocabulary, rather than literary terminology. Imagine how we could help our students understand clearly and explicitly the value their foreign language and cultural skills bring to an employer, regardless of whether that employer is corporate, government or non-profit.

It’s not about selling out to corporate consumerism. It’s about giving our students professional opportunities outside the literary realm. There are more jobs outside the literary realm than inside it. Why wouldn’t we want to create opportunities for our students to be successful in other sectors, too?

What’s your take on all this? Should foreign language programs that focus on literature, art and culture be saved? What needs to be done to revitalize and revamp foreign language programs to make them more viable?

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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Book launch: Critical Perspectives on International Education

March 19, 2013

Launch party - Critical Perspectives in Education

A few weeks ago I was excited to tell you that the book, Critical Perspectives on International Education had been released. My contribution to the book is a chapter called, “The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students” (pages 149-162).

Tomorrow is the official launch party for the book. I’d like to invite you to join us to celebrate international education!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Education Tower, Room 830 (TERA)

University of Calgary

2500 University Dr. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Entertainment will be provided by Afo-Danse Troupe

RSVP here: http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/sarah-khan/book-launch-yvonee-hebert-and-ali-a-abdi/

Critical Perspectives on International Education Sarah Eaton

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or leave a comment. Thanks!

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How will Alberta’s second language students ever achieve proficiency?

March 11, 2013

SLIC logoLate last year I had an article published in the peer-reviewed journal, Notos, which is published by the Second Language and Intercultural Council (SLIC) of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. With permission of the publisher, I am sharing the abstract and article with you:

Abstract

Students of second and international languages in Alberta do not receive sufficient hours of instruction through formal classroom time alone to achieve distinguished levels of proficiency (Archibald, J., Roy, S., Harmel, S., Jesney, K., Dewey, E., Moisik, S., et al., 2006). This research study uses a constructivist approach (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Twomey Fosnot, 2005) to explore what is meant by proficiency and expertise in terms of language learning, by applying what has commonly become known as “the 10,000-hour rule” of expertise (Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Romer, C.,1993; Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T., 2007; Gladwell, 2008).

Alberta’s French as a second language: Nine-year program of studies (Grade 4 to 12) is considered as an example. This paper argues that dedicated, self-regulated informal learning is necessary to supplement classroom learning in order to achieve 10,000 hours of dedicated practice necessary to develop high levels of proficiency or expertise, according to the definitions offered by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Recommendations are offered to help learners and parents understand critical role of self-regulated, informal learning in achieving language proficiency.

Keywords

second language, international languages, Canada, Alberta, 10,000-hour rule, expertise, proficiency, ACTFL, Common European Framework of Reference, CEFR, expert, self-regulation, formal learning, non-formal learning, informal learning.

Citation

Eaton, S. E. (2012). How will Alberta’s second language students ever achieve proficiency? ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, the CEFR and the “10,000-hour rule” in relation to the Alberta K-12 language-learning context. Notos, 12(2), 2-12.

If you are interested in a copy of the full article, please contact me.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Spanish for Dentists: 6 Great (and Free!) Resources

February 13, 2013

Teeth - smile - smallI unexpectedly had to go to the dentist this week when a filling broke in half and part of it fell out. During my visit, my dentist was telling me about her plans to take her entire team to Guatemala next year to do some pro bono work in poor communities there.

She asked me if I had any resources on Spanish for dentists. I set off on a bit of a quest. Here are six wonderful, free online resources that I found to help English-speaking dentists and dental hygienists learn the basics so they can communicate with Spanish-speaking patients:

  1. English to Spanish Phrase Guide for Dentists – http://www.deltadentalins.com/dentists/guidance/english-spanish-phrase-guide.html
  2. PracticingSpanish.Com – Spanish for Dentists – http://www.practicingspanish.com/dental-exam.html
  3. Spanish for the Dental Office  – https://www.aetnadental.com/AD/ihtAD/r.WSIHW000/st.35410/t.706081.html
  4.  Spanish Words and Phrases for Dentists – http://www.artofteeth.com/files/Spanish_for_Dentists.pdf
  5. Spanish Guide of Dental Terminology – http://lrc.wfu.edu/community_interpreting/extras/editeddental.pdf
  6. English-Spanish Dictionary of Health Related Terms – http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/spanish/engspdict.pdf

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Update: April, 2017 – This blog has had over 1.5 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!


UNESCO’s free advocacy kit for promoting multilingual education

October 24, 2012

UNESCO multilingualism Sarah Elaine Eaton blogUNESCO has a number of initiatives on the go to promote multilingual, bilingual and mother-tongue education. They have come out with a new advocacy kit designed to help raise awareness about the importance of multilingual education. The toolkit is for:

  • education practitioners (teachers)
  • education specialists (learning leaders)
  • policy makers

The kit is a 109-page free, downloadable .pdf. It is very cool. Get yours here.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Learning to Talk Like Jesus: How TV shows in Sweden support the Aramaic revival in the Middle East

May 29, 2012

Sarah Elaine Eaton blog - Languages, Literacy and Leadership

Sweden is providing a new twist on learning an old language, for  young learners of Aramaic in the two villages in the Holy Land’s small Christian community, in Beit Jala, Palestine and Jish, Israel.

In the Beit Jala Mar Afram school, run by the Syrian Orthodox church, priests have taught over 320 students Aramaic over the past five years.

In Jish approximately 80 elementary school children are taking Aramaic as a voluntary option in school.

The elementary school children who take part in the Aramaic language learning program learn to speak, listen, write Aramaic script and read the language.

Dia Hadid of the Associated Press reports that:

“The dialect taught in Jish and Beit Jala is “Syriac,” which was spoken by their Christian forefathers and resembles the Galilean dialect that Jesus would have used, according to Steven Fassberg, an Aramaic expert at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

The language classes have been met with criticisms from some parents and community members, some of whom are worried that having students learn Aramaic may be an attempt to convert them to Christianity or may be a threat to their Arabic identity.

According to the Associated Press, some members of the Christian community in the region still chant their liturgy in Aramaic, but few people understand the prayers.

Enter Sweden. Swedish officials estimate that anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 Aramaic speakers reside in that country. The Aramaic community is strong there and includes an Aramaic soccer team, “Syrianska FC” in the Swedish top division from the town of Sodertalje.

Aramaic speakers in Sweden publish a newspaper called “Bahro Suryoyo”, as well as pamphlets and children’s books, including The Little Prince. But what really helps the students learn the language is Soryoyosat, a satellite television station maintained by the Swedish Aramaic community. For some members of these two villages in the holy land, watching Aramaic programming from Swedish TV station provided the first opportunity in decades for them to hear the language spoken outside church. The Associated Press reports that “Hearing it in a modern context inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.”

This is one case, where technology and television are benefitting language learners both in terms of making learning more accessible and in increasing their motivation. These kids are “kickin’ it old school”, using new technology. Aramaic may be saved, yet.

Related post:

Can TV can help you learn another language?

https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/can-t-help-you-learn-another-language/

References

Associated Press. (2012, May 28). Pair of villages in Holy Land teaching Aramaic in effort to revive language that Jesus spoke: New focus comes with help from modern technology. NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/pair-villages-holy-land-teaching-aramaic-effort-revive-language-jesus-spoke-article-1.1085728

Hadid, D. (2012, May 28). Aramaic: Efforts To Revive Jesus’ Language In Christian Villages Beit Jala, Jish In Holy Land, Sweden. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/aramaic-holy-land-jesus_n_1550507.html

Hadid, D. (2012, May 29). Revival of Jesus’ language attempted in two Holy Land villages. Southeast Missourian. Retrieved from http://www.semissourian.com/story/1854012.html

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Today’s free webinar on marketing literacy and language schools: Relationship Marketing

May 9, 2012

Today we’re having the eighth in a series of ten free webinars on how to market and promote literacy programs and language schools.

Each webinar highlight different ideas from 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program. Every week you get practical, low-cost ideas to help you promote your program. Best of all, you’ll get to connect with others on line who are also interested in the same topic, ask questions and interact.

The webinars are  30 to 60 minutes in length. Bring a pen and paper. I’m going to give you lots of ideas you can implement right away.

Webinar #8 of 10 – What to expect

Today’s webinar will focus on:

  • Relationship marketing.
  • Building trust.
  • Personal touches that make a huge difference.
  • The real “secret” to marketing.

Webinar time

Date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012

There are some time zone changes coming up around the world, so double-check these times against your local area:

Point of origin – 14:00 (2:00 p.m.) Mountain Time, March 21, 2012 – Calgary / Edmonton

16:00 (4:00 p.m.) – Eastern Time – Toronto / New York

20:00 (8:00 p.m.) – Greenwich Time – London, England

22:00 (10:00 p.m.) – Eastern European Time – Athens / Istanbul

05:00 (5:00 a.m.) – following day – Japan Standard Time – Tokyo

How to log in

There is no need to register. These webinars are free and open to everyone. Seating is limited though, so sign on early.

To join the webinar, simply click here: http://meet11548754.adobeconnect.com/saraheaton/

Will it be recorded?

You bet. I’ll record the program and post it within 24 hours or so. No charges or fees to watch these recorded programs.

What will future webinars cover?

Here’s what we’ll cover in upcoming webinars:

  • Week #9 – Effective follow up with your marketing and not giving up too soon.
  • Week #10 – Social media for marketing.

All you have to do is block off Wednesdays in your calendar at your corresponding local time and then log in using the link above.

If you can’t make the webinar, and you’d like to ask a question about the topic, feel free to leave me a comment. I’ll do my best to answer questions that come in before the program during the webinar. You can watch the recording to get the answer to your question, or I’ll answer you back in the comment section.

Related post:

101 Ways to Market Your Language Program (10 Free webinars) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1j6

Recordings of past programs:

#1 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program 

#2 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program

#3 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program

#4 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program

#5 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program

#6 Webinar recording: 101 Ways to Market Your Language and Literacy Program

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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