Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Undergraduate Spanish Major Curriculum: Faculty, Alumni, and Student Perceptions

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Undergraduate Spanish Major Curriculum: Faculty, Alumni, and Student Perceptions

Article excerpt


Since the publication of the 2007 Modern Language Association (MLA) report "Foreign Language and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World," many foreign language departments across the United States have been reconsidering their undergraduate curricula. However, very little research has focused on the attitudes of the various stakeholders toward the courses and experiences that are typically required for a Spanish major. While there have been repeated calls to re-examine the undergraduate foreign language curriculum (see Bousquet, 2008; Doyle, 2010; Hertel & Dings, 2014; Maxim, 2009; MLA, 2007, 2009; Nuessel, 2010; Porter, 2009; Sanchez-Lopez, 2010), the curriculum revision process is hindered by the lack of data on which informed programmatic changes can be based. The current study investigated the attitudes of faculty, alumni, and current students from postsecondary institutions across the United States concerning a selection of undergraduate courses, requirements, and experiences that are commonly included in most Spanish majors.1

Review of the Literature

The oft-stated goal of language education according to the 2007 MLA report is to produce students who are "educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence" (p. 3). To achieve that end, the report emphasized the need for the integration of language and culture at all levels of language study, advanced courses that address a wider range of subject areas (e.g., Spanish for the Professions, translation and interpretation, linguistics, applied linguistics), and more interdisciplinary approaches to teaching upper-level courses. Along with articulating more philosophical arguments, the report recognized a more pragmatic reason for change: to survive as a discipline in the precarious situation that is higher education today. The report also concluded that "[f]oreign language departments, if they are to be meaningful players in higher education or indeed if they are to thrive as autonomous units-must transform their programs and structure" (MLA, 2007, p. 3). The need for foreign language departments to respond to the evolving expectations in higher education to continue to attract students to classes and majors has been discussed extensively in the literature in recent years (see Arens, 2012; Bousquet, 2008; Furman, Goldberg, & Lusin, 2010; Minana, 2013; Paesani & Allen, 2012; Porter, 2009; Rifkin, 2012; Yu, 2008).

A recent study reporting the survey results of faculty from around the United States (Hertel & Dings, 2014) found that within the previous 5 years, although the majority of Spanish undergraduate curricula still focused heavily on literature at the advanced undergraduate level, this emphasis had begun to change. Specifically, 16% of the faculty indicated that their department's Spanish undergraduate major curriculum had changed significantly, 62% indicated that it had changed somewhat, 19% noted that it had not changed, and 3% answered that they did not know (p. 533). In addition, two studies (Hertel & Dings, 2014; Klee, 2015) found an increased focus on culture, both within literature courses and in additional separate courses, and an increasing number of Spanish programs that offered Spanish for Specific Purposes/Spanish for the Professions courses, including courses in medical Spanish, business Spanish, Spanish for law professions, Spanish for educators, and interpretation/translation courses. Long and Uscinski (2012) also reported that 62% of foreign language departments in the United States offered Language for Specific Purposes courses, and that number has surely grown in recent years (p. 175). While it is clear that many Spanish departments are adjusting their offerings, many remain stagnant.

Unfortunately, decisions to maintain or revise programs of study are not consistently informed by data from program graduates and current students. Thanks to increasing attention in higher education literature to the importance of students' voices, a number of studies have cited the discrepancy between the values and perceptions of different stakeholders both across academic disciplines (see Abidin, 2015; Bovill, Cook-Sather, & Felten, 2011; Brooman, Darwent, & Pimor, 2015; Cook-Sather, 2006, 2010) and specific to the teaching and learning of world languages (see Boschetto-Sandoval, Deneire, & Sandoval, 1998; Hongboontri, 2014; Liu, Chang, Yang, & Sun, 2011; Rifkin, 2012; Worth, 2008). …

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