Presentation Abstracts

Sustainability in the Italian Classroom: Between Relevance and Acquisition

Chiara Trebaiocchi, Ph.D.
Preceptor in Italian, Coordinator of the Italian Language Program
Harvard University

Merging language and content in the language classroom is not a new philosophy or initiative anymore. From content-based instruction to multiliteracies-based pedagogy, instructors now have multiple curricular models to reimagine their syllabi and prepare their lessons. Yet, especially at lower levels of instruction, many continue too often to avoid challenging topics and texts, fearing students’ limited language proficiency. On the contrary, compelling content – carefully selected and presented to advance students’ communicative abilities – is a pivotal tool to enhance language learning while increasing students’ interest and critical thought.

In this presentation, I will discuss 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 (oral and written), I will show how addressing timely issues can attract and empower students in the foreign classroom while providing the occasion for meaningful and effective language acquisition. Finally, I will present 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.

Language, Power and Context in Content-Based Language Instruction

Gorka Bilbao Terreros, Ph.D.
Department of Spanish & Portuguese
Princeton University

Drawing from Pegrum and Kramsch’s notion of the Third Place/Space, this presentation will address 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. Most importantly, exploiting the symbiotic relationship between content-based language instruction and critical thought in the classroom allows our 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.

Visual Arts and the Foreign Language Classroom

Orit Yeret, B.A. (Political Science) and M.A. (Creative Writing) in Hebrew & Comparative Literature
Lector in Modern Hebrew
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Yale University

Many cultures around the world regard the visual arts as a powerful tool to convey and communicate different messages. Cognitive research has shown that the human brain is able to process images faster than it is able to process words. In fact, it is more likely that images, as opposed to written texts, will remain in a person’s long-term memory (Levie & Lentz, 1982). Foreign language instructors often focus their attention on various textual materials—vocabulary, verb forms, sentence structures, etc. However, as research in the field continues to demonstrate, visual resources, such as fine art, photography, advertisements, video clips and more, are able to elicit and develop language proficiency across the four domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing (Brumberger, 2011; Eliam, 2012; Baker, 2015). According to the multiliteracies framework, in today’s world “meaning is made in ways that are increasingly multimodal” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015). Therefore, by combining representations and incorporating them into the curriculum, meaningful connections can be made and further explored. My presentation will discuss the benefits of using visual materials in the foreign language classroom, as a way to promote extensive language use and cultural awareness. In addition, I will showcase some of the assignments and classroom activities I developed that are meant to enhance students’ visual literacy skills and critical thinking skills.

Multilingualism in the Spanish-Language Classroom

Jennifer Carolina Gómez Menjívar, Ph.D.
Professor, Spanish Language and Latin American Literature
Department of World Languages and Cultures
University of Minnesota Duluth

My presentation engages directly with the 2022 MLA Presidential Theme, particularly Barbara Fuch’s “invitation to highlight the importance of contemporary multilingualism, while attending to the complex histories and erasures that have led to our present condition.” I apply 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 me 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. I demonstrate 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. Such discussion is best suited for level 4-5 Spanish languages courses required for the major, as students will by then be conditioned to understand linguistic nuances.