Magazine article Multicultural Education

Cultures & Languages across the Curriculum

Magazine article Multicultural Education

Cultures & Languages across the Curriculum

Article excerpt


The role of world languages in the internationalization of college campuses in the United States (U.S.) has become a recurring theme of discussions in academic, government, and private sectors. Topics have ranged from the lack of a common definition of internationalization (Edelstein, 2014) to a review of college curricula (e.g., Rifkin, 2012). Klee (2009) and Bettencourt (2011) have recently proposed a re-examination and renewal of an instructional approach introduced almost three decades ago, Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC).1 While supporting the approach, each notes a number of issues that must be addressed for the successful implementation of a CLAC program.

In this article I take up two of these issues: the overall goal of CLAC programs and the related topic of the necessary conditions for rigorous and informative research of these programs. I begin with the premise that intercultural competence is an essential ingredient of internationalization and that intercultural competence must be developed in order for internationalization within the U.S. to advance. Furthermore, one critical factor in the development of intercultural competence is the knowledge of a world language.

First, I describe the current state of affairs in the teaching and learning of languages other than English in the U.S. Second, I highlight findings from a recent literature review on internationalization that bear directly on the development of CLAC programs and related research. Third, I present a typology of CLAC models created by Davies (2012) to exemplify the diversity of programs and the issues this poses for the unification of the CLAC "movement" ( Fourth, I maintain that situating CLAC programs within a theory of learning will strengthen research, promote crossinstitutional collaboration, and lead to program improvement and possibly the growth of CLAC programs nationally. I suggest two conceptual frameworks within which CLAC programs might be situated: Linguaculture and a Sociocultural Theory of second language acquisition.

Finally, using the CLAC program in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at Michigan State University (MSU) as an example, I describe the application of three key components of these theories to the RCAH's CLAC program.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose? (Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr,January, 1849)

The importance and benefits of knowledge of other cultures and of a language other than English (LOE) for national and individual well-being are indisputable. Yet, in 1979 the President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies concluded that "Americans' incompetence in foreign [sic] languages is nothing short of scandalous..." (cited in Panetta, 1999).

Three decades later at a Foreign Language Summit convened at the University of Maryland in 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan noted that "The United States is a long way from being [a] multilingual society." At the same summit, CIA Director Panetta stated that "for the United States to get to where it needs to be will require a national commitment to strengthening America's foreign [sic] language proficiency. A significant cultural change needs to occur. And that requires a transformation in attitude from everyone involved: individuals, government, schools and universities, and the private sector."

Findings from recent national surveys indicate that we are still far from being a multilingual society. According to the 2006 and 2008 General Social Survey,2 the proportion of speakers of languages other than English has remained relatively unchanged at approximately 25% for almost three decades. What is more, only 10% of respondents report that they speak an LOE 'very well' (Rivers & Robinson, 2012).

Not unrelated, trends in student enrollment in LOEs offered at institutions of higher education in the US do not fare any better. …

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