In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Megan Ferry, associate professor of Chinese at Union College, examines the scope of learning a foreign language today.
Dr. Megan M. Ferry is an Associate Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies at Union College in Schenectady, New York. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature (Chinese and German) from Washington University in St. Louis. Her research centers on gender and media studies in China. Her Chinese language teaching focuses on a holistic approach to developing the high-level language learner. She integrates communicative language tasks with multiple literacies (media, health and nutrition, financial, technological, civic) in order to help students develop both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, and to become life-long language learners and to value cross-cultural understanding.
It used to be that foreign language classes in the US had students modeling the teacher as they memorized long vocabulary lists and took tests that had nothing to do with using language in the real world. Students might learn the mechanics of the target language, but not be able to put it to use.
Fortunately, this method is outdated and new ones have taken its place.
Now, foreign language standards established by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages emphasize that language, whether in written or spoken form, is about communication. Therefore, foreign language teaching methods emphasize using language to negotiate within real life needs.
One example is to use language in action to develop strong interpersonal and critical thinking skills using a real world situation. In my second year Chinese classes students analyze the positive and negative effects technology plays in their everyday lives by reading a study on cellphone use and anxiety among college students. They use Chinese to survey their classmates, and then extend the discussion outside the classroom to investigate cellphone use among the Chinese international students on campus. These activities engage students in cross-cultural communications, as well as comparing and understanding technology usage and anxiety among youth at home and in China. This teaching method uses language in action to bring students closer to achieving advanced or superior-level skills like their peers in other countries, and equips students to thrive in today’s globally competitive world.
Research has found that the more students learn a foreign language in meaningful contexts, the stronger their linguistic and critical thinking skills become.
Many Americans struggle with learning a foreign language, thinking it an impossible task.
The reality is quite different. With a good communicative model in a foreign language class, there’s no limit as to where you can take your abilities.