v The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): Immersion Education

Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum (FLAC): An Immersion Option at the Post-Secondary Level

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2000, Vol. 4, No. 1

By Jolene Jacobson Barjasteh, Associate Professor of French, FLAC director (2000-2001),
St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota



Last fall, one of my students stopped by after class to discuss her options for continuing to study French language and culture beyond the fourth-semester college level. "I've just finished my language require-ment sequence," she said, "and I'd love to take more French. But I'm a science major, and I simply don't have the room in my schedule for another French class. What can I do?"

In the past, I may have struggled to find a satisfying answer for this student. Now, how-ever, I responded with enthusiasm: "Register for Medicine, Ethics and Society, an interdisciplinary course being taught by a team of professors in philosophy, sociology, and French."

My student seemed skeptical until I explained how this particular course would provide her an opportunity to use her language competence and cultural knowledge in specially designed assignments and discussions for its Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum (FLAC) component.

What is FLAC?

For over a decade, St. Olaf College faculty members from humanities, languages, and social sciences have redesigned appropriate courses in areas such as economics, history, religion, sociology, and political science to allow students to do some of their coursework in a foreign language. Options include conversation components in Chinese, French, German, Norwegian, Russian, or Spanish. In a one-hour weekly session, students read and discuss materials in the designated foreign language related to the core disciplinary course. Thus, the integration of content and language becomes the focus of the FLAC component.

Successful FLAC Courses and Models

The St. Olaf faculty's keen interest in real life language use is related to the college's commitment to provide its students with a global perspective in today's fast-changing world. To that end, instructors who participate in the FLAC program offer courses that appeal to three main groups of students. Some of them seek to fulfill general education requirements by linking their knowledge of foreign culture to another area of study. Others want to deepen their understanding of a specific region of the world or certain facets of another culture as a part of their own special course of study. Finally, many students enroll in FLAC courses either in preparation for study abroad or upon their return in an effort to integrate more successfully the off-campus experience with on-campus learning.

The roster of successful FLAC courses reflects the expertise of its faculty and the interests of students with intermediate-high to advanced-level language proficiency. Courses such as Modern France, Chinese Civilization, Soviet and Russian Foreign Policy, and Modern Latin America attract students intrigued with the history and development of a certain region. Offerings such as Christian Theology in Historical Context, Mare Balticum, and Contemporary Latin American Issues provide students with differing cultural viewpoints on selected topics.

Faculty members have shown great creativity and flexibility in teaching courses with a foreign language component. Three types of component models have emerged over time in response to the needs of our students. In the "single instructor" model, the professor of the discipline or core course has sole responsibility for the language component and speaks the foreign language with the students. In the "readings enriched" model, the professor of the core course leads discussion in English of materials students read in the foreign language. Finally, the "paired instructor" model, also known as the "St. Olaf model" because of the pioneering efforts of our FLAC program, brings two instructors together to collaborate in an innovative way. The foreign language professor is responsible for the foreign language component; the professor of the core course attends the language sessions as a participant.


The Paired Instructor Model in Practice: Medicine, Ethics and Society

In the summer of 1999, I worked closely with Professor Ray De Vries in Sociology to locate appropriate texts (readings and videos) on the way French-speaking societies have managed the problems of modern health care.

Professor De Vries was interested in the FLAC project because it would enable him simultaneously to continue his comparative study of U.S. and European health care delivery systems and to brush up his French language skills. I compiled a set of short readings in French drawn from journals, newspapers, television news broadcasts, and web sites on biomedical ethics and prepared study guides in the language.

The accompanying materials included: (a) pre-reading exercises to activate the learner's background knowledge about the topic; (b) reading activities such as skimming or scanning to help students work their way through the text; and (c) post-reading, synthetic exercises to permit students to think about the nature of ethical decision-making in the field of medicine, both in the United States and abroad.

To enhance my understanding of biomedical ethics, I attended the interdisciplinary course taught by Professor De Vries and his colleague, Professor Karen Gervais, and participated as though I were just another one of their 50 students. Then, once a week, I met for an hour with French language students (who comprised one-fifth of the full class) to discuss the comparative texts. In that context, it was my partner's turn to play the role of language learner as well as content expert. Those enrolled in the French component benefited greatly from the additional time spent with professors and shared with the entire class information and insights emerging from their reading and discussion.

For example, when the class discussed the role of government in health care, the FLAC students searched the web site of the Ministre de l'emploi et de la solidaritŽ to find a recent speech by Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Health and Humanitarian Action. In this text, Kouchner commented both directly and indirectly on the ethical questions associated with the transmission of confidential medical information over a computerized network of health providers. The FLAC students studied the strategies used by the speaker to persuade and reassure a potentially dubious French public. In another session, students viewed a clip from the French news about the reaction of patients and doctors to the closing of small maternity hospitals in France. After listening to distraught patients describe their frustra-tions with the government's decisions regard-ing health care, the FLAC students gained a new perspective on the similarities and differences of the French and U.S. systems. At the end of the semester, the student who had taken the FLAC component at my suggestion described these kinds of experiences in linking language and content as "invaluable for understanding complex ethical issues more fully."

Is FLAC for You?

The St. Olaf program depended initially on outside funding from sources such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). More recently, FLAC has continued to thrive on an endowment established by the Virginia Ann Dekker Groot family, in recognition of the program's successful contribution to inter-national education at the college. This endowment allows us to offer modest stipends to faculty members who teach in the program. However, the real motivation for participation in FLAC is the "hands-on" experience of analyzing texts in the original language with eager, enthusiastic students.

Although your institution may not have funds available for faculty development of this sort, you can still take the following initial steps toward this type of integrative study:

  • Identify faculty who use a foreign language on a regular basis, either for research purposes to enhance their understanding of their discipline or as their area of specialization;
  • Brainstorm together about ways to link or pair existing courses in languages and other disciplines;
  • Set up weekly, informal conversation tables where students and faculty can meet to discuss course content in the foreign language;
  • Involve members of the administration in developing both short- and long-term goals for integrating language and content more effectively into the curriculum;
  • Connect with those who have experience with Languages Across the Curriculum by logging on to network discussion lists (such as FLAC-L@LISTSERV.BROWN.EDU.
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