Panel Description

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 Katopodis and 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.

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.

In “Language, Power, and Context in Content-Based Instruction,” Bilbao Terreros draws from Pegrum and Kramsch’s notion of the Third Place/Space, addressing the need to move away from purely communicative, transactional approaches to language in order to make spaces for critical thought in which students undertake the role of conversation facilitators and negotiators of meaning. These positions, in turn, will foster their autonomy to create intercultural connections and to self-assert within a given context. He will show how exploiting the symbiotic relationship between content-based language instruction and critical thought in the classroom allows students to recognize that language is a discursive-ideological phenomenon: a dynamic entity in constant dialogical relation with its context and one that exists and functions within the realms of power, authority and political action.

In her presentation, “Sustainability in the Italian Classroom: Between Relevance and Acquisition,”Trebaiocchi discusses ways to raise cultural awareness and engage both beginning level- and upper level-students in critical linguistic exchanges through environmental, cultural, economic, and social issues of sustainability in the Italian classroom. Providing practical examples from lesson presentations, assessments, class discussions, she shows how addressing timely issues can attract and empower students in the foreign classroom while providing the occasion for meaningful and effective language acquisition. She presents a current ongoing project of re-designing the syllabus of Italian 30 (a fourth-semester upper-level course) entirely around sustainability topics, relevant both for the Italian discourse and on a global scale.

Heeding to Cope and Kalintzis’ call for a broader understanding of literacy, in her presentation, “Visual Arts and the Foreign Language Classroom,” Yeret discusses the pedagogic potential of visual texts for advancing cultural awareness and language learning in a presentation that draws on cognitive research and visual art. Her presentation showcases assignments and classroom activities that are meant to enhance students’ visual literacy skills and critical thinking skills.

In her presentation, “Multilingualism in the Spanish-Language Classroom,” Gómez approaches the topic of the panel by engaging directly with the 2022 MLA Presidential Theme (the importance of contemporary multilingualism). She applies the New London Group’s theories of multiliteracy, drawing primarily from Norman Faircough’s observation about the relationship between discursive change and social and cultural change. This allows her to argue that texts by contemporary Indigenous writers can serve as a gateway for advanced learners of the Spanish language to think critically about linguistic hierarchies and linguistic resistance in the region. She demonstrates that these writings are not merely celebratory of linguistic diversity, but rather a means to create a space for readers to examine critical concepts in Latin American thought, to wit: power, hybridity, colonialism, transculturation, nation, and testimonio.

Barnes-Karol, Gwendolyn and Maggie A. Broner. “Engaging Students in Critical Thinking in and through a Foreign Language: It Can Be Done!” Profession.

Katopodis, Christina and Cathy N. Davidson. “Changing Our Classrooms to Prepare Students for a Challenging World.” Profession, Fall 2019.