Recasting the Foreign Language Requirement through Study Abroad: A Cultural Immersion Program in Avignon

By Ingram, Mark | Foreign Language Annals, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Recasting the Foreign Language Requirement through Study Abroad: A Cultural Immersion Program in Avignon


Ingram, Mark, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract:

Given the decline in French majors and enrollments in French junior year study abroad programs, educators have increasingly turned to short-term study abroad for first- and second-year students. These programs can motivate students fulfilling the language requirement, while also internationalizing the curriculum through interdisciplinary and experiential learning in a foreign environment. This article examines a pilot program in which study abroad in Avignon, France, was an integral part of a third-semester course. Student evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. Many students subsequently continued with French, applied for the junior year Paris program, and found innovative ways to integrate language and study in other disciplines. Drawing on this experience, this article addresses the value of such programs to foreign language curricular development and to the internationalization of the liberal arts curriculum generally.

Key words: experiential learning, foreign language immersion, foreign language requirement, interdisciplinary, intemationalization, study abroad

Language: French

Introduction

The junior year study abroad experience has often been a centerpiece in the modern language department curriculum for majors. It has served as both the reward for long years of preparation, and as foundation for the highest level courses in literature and civilization. In recent years, participation in short-term study abroad programs has increased (Wheeler, 2000). However, these programs have not been well integrated within the curricula of foreign language instruction, as departments have generally remained wedded to the earlier advanced-learner and longer term model. Well-conceived short-term programs can stimulate new interest in language study precisely when it is needed most-at the end of the coursework required to complete a college's language requirement. An excellent example is the program in Costa Rica described by Gorka and Niesenbaum (2001). Through projects linking the study of the natural environment with study of the language and culture of the area, the Costa Rica program was able to engage non-language majors from a variety of disciplines in a language-intensive study abroad curriculum. Such programs offer a unique opportunity for internationalizing the curriculum as a whole through interdisciplinary programs centered on experiential learning in a foreign cultural environment.

This article examines a pilot study abroad program in Avignon, France, in January 2002. The program was an integral part1 of a special section of a 4-credit third-semester French course-the last one needed to complete the college's language requirement (three 4-credit semester-long courses or equivalent proficiency). The class included two parts: a 7-week component on campus during which students met four times a week for 50 minute sessions, and the 3-week study abroad component during which students met six times a week for 2-hour sessions. In addition to the usual French 130 content, there were also several guest lecturers and excursions in Avignon.

Student evaluations of the course were overwhelmingly positive, in contrast to the lower scores this thirdsemester course often receives. Eight of the 17 Avignon students enrolled in language courses upon their return and several attended the junior year program in Paris, swelling the enrollments for that program to more than twice the number of the previous year. Back on campus, students found innovative ways to integrate language study within their majors, and to strengthen the international dimension of their education as a whole. Through consideration of this program's experience and promise, this article argues for the value of short-term study abroad to foreign language curricular development and to the internationalization of the liberal arts curriculum.

Motivating Students to Meet the Language Requirement

The need for greater knowledge of the language and culture of other countries is more acute in the United States today than ever before. …

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