From Our Desk: ALTEC's Blog

Continuing Ed, ALTEC Grant Announcement

ALTEC and Continuing Education today are announcing a grant program intended to develop enhancements to our language programs so majors and minors can more efficiently connect hard-won, (ACTFL intermediate-high through advanced) skills to a professional goal. This could be done with a course for academic credit, a non-academic credit workshop, a lecture series, or a CU Global Seminar. A less-than-exhaustive list of the purposes of these grant applications might include the following: offering a new course that may be cross-curricular (e.g., geography and language) offering a translation and/or interpretation course/workshop preparing students for professional exams or certification exams that are expressly developed to demonstrate specific skills (such professional translator exams, language exams needed to become a teacher, or language for medical purposes exams that lead to increased success in healthcare fields). This grant opportunity is open to all language departments, including Asian Literatures and Civilizations, French and Italian, Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Jewish Studies and Speech, Spanish and Portuguese, Language and Hearing.

The application should consist of the following sections:

A statement of the problem the course (or proposed intervention) is addressing and/or the goals the course seeks for students to attain.

A short narrative that explains the rationale and methods (i.e., a four to eight paragraph discussion of the pedagogical means and course content) to solve the problem discussed in point 1 or the rationale and methods that will promote students’ ability to reach the goals of the course.

A timeline for the work to be done to complete the project.

A budget that covers as thoroughly as possible the projects’ various sub-parts (including personnel) and their costs.

A way to assess whether the project will attain its goals.

An additional requirement would include an endorsement letter from the department chair (or chairs if this is a cross-curricular collaboration).

Applicants should also schedule a meeting with Mark Knowles to discuss the project in greater detail as early in the process as possible.

Meet new Resources Coordinator Jennifer Katzung!

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ALTEC is happy to announce that Jennifer Katzung is our new Resources Coordinator. Jennifer brings with her an impressive set of experiences in similar positions, including as an academic advisor, a conference administrator, an admissions advisor, and she also comes with four years of experience at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) as an assistant to the chair, a doctoral program coordinator, and as an office manager.

So welcome to Jennifer Katzung, whose email is Jennifer.Katzung at colorado.edu.

Native speakers of English flounder in International contexts

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A recent article on BBC.com serves as a good reminder of the least talked about but most important aspects of language learning in the US and Britain. Even though English is the lingua franca of much of what happens in our globalized world, native English speakers are often miserable communicators in international contexts compared to non-native English speakers, and a central component in our language curriculum should be to reverse this phenomenon. As one might expect, this is not news to the academy. In that regard, and as a tribute to two recently deceased linguists (Larry Smith and Braj Kachru) who for the past three or four decades brought some of the finer points of World Englishes into our consciousness, I would like to highlight four ideas from that BBC article and argue for serious consideration of their implications for non-English language courses at CU.

First, non-native speakers often speak more purposefully and carefully – they use something called comprehensible input, a skill that comes about only through long hours of practice. Incomprehensible input is the domain of native Anglophones, who often speak too fast for others to follow, and they use jokes, slang and references specific to their own culture, according to Chia Suan Chong, the UK-based communications skills and intercultural trainer quoted in the BBC article. Similarly, in emails, they use abbreviations “such as ‘OOO’, instead of simply saying that they will be out of the office.”

The implication here is that if Americans want to be successful with their English on the international scene, they might want to learn International English from a second-language learner of English.

Second, Jennifer Jenkins, professor of global Englishes at the UK’s University of Southampton, “found that international students at a British university understood each other well in English and swiftly adapted to helping the least fluent members in any group.”

The implication here is that we should become more reliant on advanced learners of our languages to help the least fluent learners. Let’s start a learning assistant program for languages similar to one that exists in the sciences at CU.

Third, Zurich-based Michael Blattner, IP Operations at Zurich Insurance Group, underlines the fact that unusual words, speed of talking, and mumbling don’t help, especially if the conversation. “You start disengaging and doing something else because there isn’t any chance of understanding,” he says.

This time the implication is that relying on native-speaker habits for native-speaker contexts is not effective in international contexts – they do not impress nor do they even work – and they may not even be all that effective for local, native contexts, either. And since our language learners do not learn just to speak for native-speaker contexts, our pedagogy should emphasize slower speech and more frequently used words, and it should emphasize a little more enunciation!

Fourth, Rob Steggles, senior marketing director for Europe at telecommunications giant NTT Communications, also emphasizes that Anglophones don’t speak at a normal pace, but instead, rush to fill gaps in conversation. This might help them get home on time and it might make them feel good about themselves, but it does virtually nothing to elicit output from potential international partners; nor does it aid in getting a point across.

I’m going to sum up number four with the joint conclusion that those Anglophones who do learn to communicate well in English in international contexts might also try out for becoming language teachers, because there is a great amount of overlap in the the skills needed to do both.