College Faculty Perceptions about Foreign Language

By Wilkerson, Carol | Foreign Language Annals, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

College Faculty Perceptions about Foreign Language


Wilkerson, Carol, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract:

Most postsecondary institutions are committed to internationalization of their curricula, global awareness, and appreciation for multiculturalism. However, proficiency in a foreign language plays a marginal role, at best, in reaching these goals. In an attempt to understand the perceptions about the role of foreign language in postsecondary education, liberal arts faculty and administrators were polled regarding their beliefs about foreign language. Responses indicate that regardless of their support for foreign language, faculty members generally believe that learning another language means instruction in grammar and lexicon, with little attention to culture. Although faculty generally agreed that proficiency in another language is important, degree programs in the service professions were viewed as too prescriptive to allow students enough time to learn another language.

Key words: attitudes, college foreign language, faculty survey, foreign language requirement, perceptions,

Languages: English

Background

The report of Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad characterized America's ignorance of the world as a national liability, and it urged the government to increase the number of college students who learn foreign languages (CNN, 2003). In its comments, the task force criticized America's stubborn monolingualism as feeding the confusion many Americans felt after September 11, 2001 (Lovgren, 2004). There is little wonder that postsecondary institutions have set goals to internationalize their curricula, to increase the number of American students who study abroad, and to facilitate students' appreciation of diversity within the United States. Proficiency in another language goes far to meet all these goals (ADFL, 2004; Calvin & Rider, 2004; National Standards, 1999). Nevertheless, Goldberg, Lusin, and Welles (2004) found that less than one-third of American colleges require foreign language study for admission, and Calvin and Rider (2004) have described the common practice of waiving college graduation requirements in foreign language for students with as little as two years of high school coursework, despite the fact that a study by the Council for Basic Education (2004) found that as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, instruction time in foreign language in American schools has decreased. This investigation was undertaken to understand what college faculty think about the place of foreign language study in postsecondary, liberal arts education and to help the profession make informed decisions about programs based upon colleagues' perceptions and beliefs.

Methodology

Carson-Newman College, located in rural, eastern Tennessee, has a long and continuous history as a liberal arts college. The vision statement for the college proclaims its desire to have a worldwide impact, and each year approximately 50% of the 2,000 students volunteer for service projects in the United States and abroad. No prior study of a language other than English is required for admission to the college. Depending upon the degree program, the foreign language requirement for graduation varies from no coursework in college-level foreign language, to elementary-level coursework in one language, to elementary coursework in two languages, to intermediate coursework in one language. Students who maintained a "B" average during four or more years of high school language study are exempted from any foreign language requirement. Carson-Newman's lack of an entrance requirement in foreign language, coupled with wide-ranging degree program requirements in language study, and the college's vision "to have a worldwide impact" combine to make the college an opportune site at which to poll faculty about foreign language study and foreign language requirements.

During the spring of 2004, a questionnaire was sent to all of the approximately 100 faculty and administrators with faculty status inquiring about their personal experiences studying foreign languages, their opinion about college-level foreign language study, their expectations of proficiency for college-level foreign language study, their beliefs about challenges to learning another language, and reasons for learning another language. …

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