Foreign Language Instruction—What’s Needed

An interview with Professor Maureen Jameson

Maureen Jameson

Maureen Jameson

Improving students’ foreign language proficiency is key to any effort to globalize campus curricula. It’s also a matter of national policy, with Congress designating a “Year of Languages” in 2005 and a “Year of Study Abroad” in 2006. In the latter, secondary schools and institutions of higher learning are both encouraged “to promote and expand study abroad opportunities.” Moreover, business and political leaders recently called on U.S. colleges to produce more graduates with strong language skills to enable Americans to participate in commerce, diplomacy and cultural exchange. Achieving these goals is problematic in the United States, however, because language training starts so late, and because there is little continuity between K–12 and college-level training.

At UB, Maureen Jameson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, is one of a dozen SUNY language department chairs urging “a concerted, statewide, central effort to develop articulation between high school and college language study, and to promote language study and study abroad to the general population.” She also advocates creation of a language center to provide instruction at the beginning and intermediate levels and help integrate language study with study abroad. Jameson urges that the university phase in a minimal expectation of foreign language proficiency for entering freshmen and that it substantially expand offerings in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Hindi.

“Responsible global citizenship requires not just traditionally emphasized competencies in reading, mathematics and science,” says Jameson, “but also proficiency in foreign languages and respectful knowledge of other countries and cultures.”

According to Jameson, UB can fulfill its promise as a national leader in international education by making better use of its proximity to Canada. Success in internationalization and language education will require creativity, plus a sustained and committed partnership involving many campus departments. Awareness of our changing global environment should ideally permeate all aspects of campus life, both curricular and extracurricular, she argues.

“Language study should be seamlessly integrated with study abroad for students in all majors and should lead to options for advanced study, not only of the cultures, histories and literatures of the regions in which the language is spoken, but also of the practice of the students’ disciplines,” Jameson says. “Students learning engineering or medicine or law here should be interacting with their disciplinary peers overseas.” Further, methods of language instruction can be diversified, she adds. “Multi-modal instruction must be made available, including effective classroom instruction, self-paced self-instruction, intensive summer immersion, and specialized content-based and Web-based instruction. Opportunities can be developed through partnerships with overseas institutions. UB’s prominence in new instructional and digital technologies, and its wide array of international partners will be of use in expanding these options.”

To enable students to meet language requirements and be prepared for study abroad, Jameson proposes offering intensive summer immersion training for high school students throughout the state, for example taking advantage of a network of professionals in community colleges. “We must take particular care to see to it that disadvantaged students are enabled to meet any new entrance expectation and to attain advanced proficiency,” she says. “A language center would also participate in continuing education and professional development of language teachers throughout the state by building a library of pedagogical materials—real and virtual—sponsoring conferences on new developments in language learning and technology, recognizing outstanding achievement in language teaching, and promoting high standards for accreditation in language teaching.”