Learning a foreign language is great, even if you don’t plan on traveling or living in the country where it would come in handy. That’s because the skills used to learn a language bring an added benefit. That’s the goal of an initiative underway now at Texas Tech.
“The Global Readiness through Language and Culture project is really all about showcasing a variety of skills that students get when they study languages and cultures. The reason for that is people tend to view that type of study as ‘oh, it’s a language school, that’s all you do?’ ‘What are your skills?’ ‘Oh, I can speak German,’ or ‘I can write Chinese characters.’” But we’re interested in this project, what are other skills that are often overlooked? Critical thinking, creative thinking, analysis.”
“Through learning another language or language and culture classes, what are some other skills? So helping the students realize that, and they make an e-portfolio where they demonstrate ‘I have critical thinking, creative thinking, I can present things, I can analyze things, I can interact with other people who are different.’”
That’s Alec Cattell, a professor of practice in Texas Tech’s Department of Classical and Modern Language and Literature. He is steering the initiative, which will run through the spring semester of 2021.
Cattell says he estimates that more than 3,000 Tech foreign language students will participate in the Global Readiness through Language and Culture. The work students will do likely will boost their belief in themselves.
“I think this project is important to students because often in language courses, and we see this at the lower level and at the upper level, so from the one-thousands up to the four-thousands. Students view themselves as deficient. They always see what they can’t do, and sometimes they even get that feedback from their instructor, ‘you didn’t conjugate that verb properly,’ or ‘you’re not like a native speaker.’ This project is trying to empower them a little bit and motivate them to see the skills that they do have and say ‘hey, my French is still improving’ or ‘hmm, I can’t quite write all of these Chinese characters, but here are the things I can do. I can analyze things, I can communicate with people from different places.’ So just give them a positive self-image around studying a language.”
Twenty-four faculty in the department are participating. Through targeted assignments, a lecture series and an e-Portfolio, the faculty will help students develop linguistic, cultural, cross-cultural and professional knowhow.
Cattell says students’ projects from lower-level courses will be archived on the department’s webpage, and upper level students for fall courses will present their work at the department’s poster presentation and spring course participants will present their posters at the university’s undergraduate research conference.
Participating faculty, he says, may feel challenged by how best to integrate the ePortfolios or the poster presentations.
“But we’re doing some trainings and we’re meeting with people, so it’s actually been very invigorating, I think among the faculty. Although there’s a moment of ‘oh my goodness, we’ve never done this before!’ I think it’s going to build momentum, I think it is building momentum.”
Several outside lecturers will come to campus each semester of the program to talk about how to translate foreign language skills to other talents in the workplace. Cattell says he got an $80,000 grant from Tech’s Center for Global Communications to fund the program for two years.
He says employers in the business world can benefit from the skills utilized to learn a foreign language.
“OK, you learned literary analysis in your upper level German course. Your employer is going to be like ‘we don’t do that at our company, but we need you to compile information, analyze it, present results, make a case, make a compelling argument, or create a product,’ right? So we’re trying to get the students to understand that that one skill that you’ve learned, that means something different in the business world.”
There’s a possibility, he says, the program, in some form, will continue beyond two years.
“I think that after we do this for two years, we may just say, ‘OK we just want to keep doing these e-portfolios.’ It might be established by that time, we might bring other people on board, who knows where it will go after the grant money is done, but I think it’s great; the idea to just invigorate the curriculum and our thoughts about studying languages and cultures, and what’s that good for? What are you going to do with that?”