Panel Description

This panel forms part of the MLA’s 2022 presidential theme: Multilingual U.S.

This panel reinitiates proposals for humanistic approaches to language learning that links language acquisition with the teaching of critical thinking skills that are at the heart of a liberal arts undergraduate education in the United States. In the context of national conversations about racial and economic injustice, social polarization, and xenophobia, foreign language programs can “transform language classrooms into spaces of higher-order thinking and learning, even at the introductory level of instruction” (Barnes-Karol and Broner).

At a time in which the ramifications of COVID-19 have meant college and university budget cuts and a tenuous future for some foreign language programs, it is urgent for us to consider anew Christina Katopodis and Cathy N. Davidson’s invitation: “taking our mission seriously and delivering on our promises.” That means articulating to ourselves, our students and their parents, as well as to university administrators how language learning and cultural knowledge are preparing “our students to be empowered to think and to act critically in the contingent, precarious, overwhelming world we have bequeathed to them.”

This panel thus engages with the role that foreign language programs can play in creating a space for critical thought in an environment shaped by national crises. The panelists move beyond language teaching that is transactional and that treats culture superficially because that approach can inhibit critical reflection and the development of the intellectual skills at the heart of liberal arts education.

The panel participants will show how content-based language instruction grounded in post-communicative methodologies can use the target language in responding to the social, political, and economic needs of the present historical moment.

The panel will consist of four fifteen-minute presentations, leaving fifteen minutes for discussion at the end.

Organizer and moderator
Dr. Luna Nájera, Senior Lector I, Associate Research Scholar, Interim Co-Director of the Spanish and Portuguese Program at Yale University