Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Foreign Languages and Sustainability: Addressing the Connections, Communities, and Comparisons Standards in Higher Education

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Foreign Languages and Sustainability: Addressing the Connections, Communities, and Comparisons Standards in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article describes an interdisciplinary collaboration that combined the study of German language with instruction in environmental issues (sustainable development). The project, involving both an independent study and a classroom unit, allowed students to make connections between disciplines, establish contact with German-speaking communities outside the university, and make cultural and linguistic comparisons. By expanding the German-language content on the Web site Appropedia.org, which is devoted to global sustainable development, students took an active role in learning by creating content that can be read and used by the global community of German speakers. This project provided a model for successful interdisciplinary instruction. The results of this study show that integrating environmental issues with foreign language study provides significant opportunities for students to increase their language proficiency, develop their understanding of concepts related to the environment, and become more involved in a global community through a virtual service learning project.

Key words: German, content-based instruction, interdisciplinary approaches, national standards, service learning, sustainable development

Introduction

Since the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning were published in 1995 (National Standards, 1999), there has been much discussion about how best to implement these standards at the elementary and secondary levels, and how to train teachers to use the Standards in their own classrooms (Allen, 2002; Bartz & Singer, 1996; Glisan, 1996; Heining-Boynton, 1996; Nielsen & Hoffman, 1996), yet very little debate about how to adapt them to higher education, or indeed whether the Standards are applicable to foreign language instruction in colleges and universities. More recently, however, the Modern Language Association (MLA) has issued a report that calls for the transformation of foreign language education at the university level in a direction similar to that suggested by the Standards. Informed by the events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent ''sense of crisis around what came to be called the nation's language deficit,'' the report calls for the reorganization of foreign language education with the goal of developing ''translingual and transcultural competence'' in student learners, who would come to understand ''differences in meaning, mentality, and worldview as expressed in American English and in the target language'' (Modern Language Association Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages, 2007, n.p.). According to the MLA report, this transformation in language education is to be accomplished through ''a broader and more coherent curriculum in which language, culture, and literature are taught as a continuous whole, supported by alliances with other departments and expressed through interdisciplinary courses'' (Modern Language Association Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages, 2007, n.p.). The MLA report's emphasis on understanding cultural differences is similar to the Comparisons and Cultures Standards, while the focus on using the target language outside the classroom echoes the Communities Standard. Finally, and parallel to the Connections Standard, the report calls for integration of foreign language instruction into other disciplines within the university.

The convergence of recommendations by leading organizations devoted to the study of language and literature suggests that an interdisciplinary approach to language learning, which brings students into contact with communities speaking the target language, and which facilitates cultural and linguistic comparisons, would bring about gains in language proficiency while preparing students to become global citizens. At the same time, it is worth noting that leading academic, cultural, and political organizations outside the field of language study have advocated a global, interdisciplinary approach to learning and teaching about pressing issues such as the environment and sustainability. …

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