Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yes, we need intensive language classes!

By far, my biggest annoyance this semester was the fact that the language classes I was teaching are only three hours a week.  This is, in my opinion, ridiculous for any language, but especially for Arabic, which requires more hours to learn for English speakers.  Having classes only 3 hours a week means:

--it is harder to learn the language (since you need to do something with it every day, and language learning is all about time and practice)
--you can take a lot of classes and still not be able to do much in the language
--you are behind your peer institutions that offer intensive classes, and thus less competitive for jobs and scholarships

However, apparently Andalus U is not big on intensive language classes, which means I may have to do something sneaky, like have an extra 3 credits required online.  I am tempted by the idea of a hybrid class, which would still only meet 3 hours a week, and have the other 3 credits online, as this would make scheduling easier and also allow me to take advantage of the best of both environments for language learning.  We shall see.  

To those that say it is a lot of credits for students, and will reduce enrollments, I say you have to make choices: quality over quantity.  To those who say, but you will have to teach five days a week, I say that if you are not willing to do that, you should not be in this field.  To those who say well, it's the culture that's really important, I say that you will never get the culture without the language (and vice versa of course, they are inseparable).  

Another interesting question of course, is why this is so important to me.  The students don't know (yet) they're missing out with three credits rather than five or six, and it's less work for me to teach a three credit class than a five or six credit one.  So something I've been thinking about a lot recently, spurred on of course by the fact that much of what I've been reading recently focuses on ideologies of language learning, is why this is so important.  

The answer is that I view fighting American monolingualism as an important life goal.  One way I do this is through my teaching and research, which also explains why I get so frustrated and annoyed when people treat these as separate areas.  While it is objectively true that since I do not do classroom research, my teaching does not lead to things that "count" as research and vice versa, I view teaching and research as part of the same larger goal.  Being a quality teacher and researcher allows me to fight on two fronts.  

Similarly, if I accept the status quo, that it's okay to have three-credit language classes, that it's okay to take six semesters and still not be able to do much in the language, I am supporting monolingualism, despite the fact that as a language teacher I am ostensibly working against it.  It is both the covert and the overt messages we give about language learning that are influential.  We cannot let the former undercut the latter.  

And now I will step down from my soapbox, but continue the fight.  


  1. -Hybrid.
    -Pair everyone up with a conversation partner for outside of class.
    -Assign fieldwork of some kind.
    -Assign lots of movies and songs.

  2. I am quite fascinated by your dedication to this because while I utterly agree, I lack the oomph to enforce. This is partly of course because of not having the power, I am one of a large corps and we have to all compromise on methods. It is also partly because of teaching a language where a lot of students don't really want to be. In Portuguese I am gung-ho because the students are self-selected, but in Spanish I only am if I have a T.A., because they are serious about learning how to do it so I get inspired to do it right for their sake.

    But there is something else, I am differently located and just out of curiosity trying to put my finger on it. It's the Comp Lit attitude or something, an assumption that we are all already multilingual and to talk to each other, are using whatever the lingua franca is locally.

    You do have to get messianic about it though, to acquire a language. Something we have are these conversation courses that can be taken by themselves or with the 3 credit language courses. If you take both at once then you are stronger in both, and that makes for superstars and non stars in the language courses, to which we say yes well, everyone has the option to take both classes at once and do better and move ahead faster.

  3. Randomly ran across article in L2 Journal about online teaching strategies for Arabic.