The Role of Language Centers in CLAC

April 29, 2011 4 comments

Posted by Cindy Evans, Director of the Foreign Language Resource Center, Skidmore College.

From Language Labs to Resource Centers
As a language resource center director and a practitioner of CLAC, I feel compelled to express a few thoughts on the potential role for language centers in support of CLAC initiatives.  Over the course of my 20 years in this profession, I’ve seen language labs transformed from facilities supporting primarily oral / aural practice into resource centers at the forefront of implementing the latest in technology, offering a rich context for the study of foreign cultures and languages.

Language Resource Centers Across the Curriculum
As the foreign language curriculum increasingly reaches out across the disciplines, so should our language resource centers.  There is growing momentum toward building a more inclusive and comprehensive L2 curriculum along the lines advocated by the 2007 MLA Report.  The National Standards, “the 5 C’s”, serve as guideposts to broaden the scope beyond the traditional language and literature curriculum.  At the same time, we have seen a progression from language lab headset days to foreign language resource centers / media labs / culture studios.  The evolution of the naming conventions for our “language labs” is reflective of the broadening in scope.  While the focus on language acquisition remains central to our mission, we increasingly serve as portals to experience foreign cultures.  Fellow center director (and CLACker), Sharon Scinicariello describes her newly remodeled and renamed Global Studio (University of Richmond) as “a hub for the use of technology to encounter the world.” (
Language centers can and should open our doors to the campus community to facilitate our community members’ access to foreign languages and cultures.

The Missing Link?
CLAC programs are housed in many different areas on campus, and often NOT associated with FL departments.  As centers we can serve as a central resource for CLAC programs, especially those having no formal ties to language departments.  It seems natural that language centers should serve needs for L2 support from all corners of the campus. Resource centers can and should provide guidance and reference materials to support CLAC programs, particularly for non-language faculty practitioners of CLAC and for students engaged in self-directed learning.

Language Resource Centers Support Self-directed Learning
CLAC is generally conceived as learner-centered.  All CLAC programs face challenges in dealing with a wide range of proficiency levels, student interests, and content areas.  Some programs can be highly individualized, as in our program at Skidmore where each student selects a content area and reading materials and works largely independently.  Language centers can provide resources to support language acquisition and research in foreign languages.  In institutions where the CLAC curriculum is not individualized (i.e. all students in the section have the same readings), resource centers can offer language support for CLAC students wishing to advance their proficiency and possibly guidance for any individualized research needs.

Resources for Non-language Faculty
For CLAC practitioners across the disciplines, language centers may be a source of information on L2 pedagogy, curricular design, and assessment.  Many center directors have expertise in these areas and can provide guidance in such issues as determining appropriate tasks for the CLAC classroom.

Types of Resources Available
Some examples of L2 expertise that many resource centers that can provide to support CLAC faculty and students include:

Assessment-related information:  Most center directors can provide information on assessing language learners’ proficiency level (ACTFL standards), and the National Standards for Foreign Language Education (“5 Cs”).

L2 pedagogy – Language centers directors often can offer guidance on developing proficiency-based curricula, e.g., designing appropriate tasks with respect to proficiency levels.

Language-specific resources – Centers offer a variety of resources to support L2 learning (texts and reference materials), foreign language encyclopedias, foreign TV programs (many centers receive foreign broadcasts via satellite), bilingual dictionaries, foreign film collections, language learning software.

L2 Tutoring – Language centers often have advanced student language assistants or native language assistant speakers who offer tutoring for students in FL classes.

We welcome comments, questions, and suggestions.  Please leave comments to suggest other ways in which you would like to see language centers serve the CLAC community!

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A French instructor’s view on a CLAC workshop

April 20, 2011 1 comment

Posted by a graduate LAC instructor at UNC- Chapel Hill:

I am a graduate student in the Political Science Department at UNC, and I took part in the videoconferenced workshop between the CLAC organizations at SUNY Binghamton and UNC. The topic of the workshop was the cultivation of research skills for students in second languages. The workshop was a great opportunity to exchange information and knowledge, and I will use much of what I have learned in the classroom. I am currently teaching a French recitation for Introduction to European Politics at UNC.

Among the many things that I took away from the workshop a few come to mind:

First, I found out that the challenges that I encountered in my teaching are by no means unique, and that other instructors in languages other than French are faced with similar situations. Knowing this makes it easier to expose any problems encountered in the teaching process, to ask questions and find solutions. For instance I use to think that the students in my recitation had problems finding good sources of information in French because French is not native to any of them, and they all learned it in school. I was surprised to learn that instructors in other languages with students who are native speakers (EG: Spanish or Korean) encounter the same problems.

Second, the discussions were conducive to real solutions to the problems raised. The merit goes primarily the two moderators who shared their extensive experience with teaching and researching in foreign languages, but also to the other participants. The process involved identifying challenges as well as brainstorming for solutions. For the problem of finding good sources in foreign languages, a few of the participants proposed the creation of common databases of sources between the two schools (SUNY Binghamton and UNC). These databases could be used in the future by instructors and students at both schools.

Finally, I was surprised by how well the participants could relate to each other over a wire. It was a videoconference and yet we felt like we were in the same room. I guess common interests and common challenges brought us together. The atmosphere was very collegial and no one felt like what he/she might say may be regarded as wrong or stupid. The purpose of the exercise was to learn from others’ experiences and therefore there were no right or wrong answers. I am looking forward to the next opportunity to take part in such a workshop and I highly recommend it not anyone who may be interested.

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Benefits of Membership

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Posted by Suronda Gonzalez, SUNY Binghamton

Perhaps you’re asking yourself: Why should I join the CLAC consortium?  Here are a few simple reasons based on input from a variety of members and filtered through me:

5.  Membership is Free.  No reduced rates for members at CLAC – we’ve made all benefits free instead! While this isn’t the foremost reason for joining, it certainly is a consideration in these financially lean times. You can become an individual or institutional member for no charge.  We only ask that you actively participate in our discussions. (See link about membership – link here)  You’ll have access to our resources, list serve, blog, and other resources.  Member needs and interests shape the direction of our conversations.  We make every effort to keep conference costs reasonable so that as many as possible can attend and maintain their membership. What a deal!

4.  Getting the Inside Scoop.   Once you attend a conference or join in our blog discussions, you’ll soon realize that CLAC is a great place to get an up-close view of how CLAC works within an assortment of institutional cultures, and incredible variety among existing programs.  Looking at websites and reading promotional materials about a program can give you a good overview, but there’s nothing like having a one-on-one conversation with a campus innovator about his/her experiences. As colleagues show “CLAC in practice” from grant draft through assessment, I’ve been able to get an honest representation (“warts and all”) about how other programs work.   At conferences, and through continued conversations, I’ve connected with colleagues at institutions facing similar struggles, and we’re establishing a more formalized partnership as one strategy for meeting our common goals.

The community is inclusive and brings together faculty from all disciplines, administrators, international programs staff, graduate students, and undergraduates. There’s also real breadth in the kinds of institutions represented among our membership:  businesses, schools, government, community colleges, 4 year liberal arts institutions, and research institutions.  This kind of diversity isn’t always the norm at other national conferences I attend.  I really like being able to hear from all the stakeholders, and in fact, I find it a necessity for getting the full picture about how CLAC programs work.

CLAC conversations push my thinking, and help me become more reflective at a personal and intuitional level about program development and ways to better meet CLAC goals/outcomes.  Honestly, I leave most meeting with a headache – not because the conversations are strained – but because I’m working through new ideas.

3.  Electronic and Carbon-Free Resources:  As the CLAC community grows, so too does the list of available resources.  Our website will be featuring some of these in the blog, and also in the resource area. Keep your eyes open for announcements about resource updates. Add yours and become part of our collaborative resource creation.  We’re planning some virtual interactions too, so you can reduce your carbon footprint at the same time you’re advancing your programs.

2.  The Community:  Frankly, CLAC is my first choice networking with colleagues who share similar goals. Members are generous with their time and exhibit a real commitment to their work.  It’s been a great place to make professional connections, and to develop mentoring relationships.  I enjoy it as a place where my students can also engage in the professional dialogue around CLAC. They’ve presented papers, joined in committees, and gone on to become CLAC innovators in their professional lives.  Members learn about the latest developments and, in all honesty, actively shaping the development of the CLAC movement.  Sometimes I look to the CLAC community as a sounding board to remind me that what I’m doing on a daily basis does make a difference or that I’m not the only one facing a certain obstacle.  I’ve found a really devoted community in the CLACkers, and they fuel my commitment to my work.

1. It’s fun!  If it weren’t fun, I don’t believe any of us would be doing the work to support the CLAC Consortium initiative.  None of us receive a salary from the Consortium. Instead, the Consortium pays dividends of creativity, inspiration, and professional and program development,
So, why is it again that aren’t you a member?  If you’d like to add your institution as a member, please send me an email with a brief description of your CLAC initiatives and your institutional logo. If you’d like to become an individual member, add yourself to the CLAC Listserv (Add Link?)

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CLAC Statement of Principles (A CLAC Manifesto)

February 10, 2011 2 comments

Submitted by Diana Davies, CLAC Chair, Vice Provost for International Initiatives, Princeton University


  • CLAC is a driver of students’ personal transformation, as users of languages and as critical analysts of cultures.
  • CLAC is NOT Content Based Language Instruction. It is not about using content as a means of teaching language as a subject or a skill. (Some have more appropriately described CBLI as CALC, or the Curriculum across Languages and Cultures.)
  • CLAC is NOT simply the infusion of culture into language teaching. Infusing culture into all levels of language teaching should be a minimum expectation of all quality language programs.
  • CLAC can happen everywhere EXCEPT within traditional language classrooms in the same sense that Sciences across the Curriculum does not occur in a Physics course and Writing across the Curriculum does not occur in an English Composition course.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that language use can’t be truly meaningful unless it is informed by an awareness of culture. To speak of the meaningful use of language, then, always implies the use of language within an authentic cultural context. The reverse is also true. For this reason, the “C” and the “L” are always linked together in CLAC.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that meaningful USE of language is qualitatively different from the STUDY of language. Too many U.S. students continue to see modern languages as an “academic object” or just another requirement they must complete on their way to more meaningful curricular content.  Ironically, the majority of distributional and General Education language requirements in the U.S. only serve to reinforce this perception.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that meaningful use of a second language is a critical step in the development of translingual and transcultural sensitivities. Using another language to approach subjects and experiences outside the traditional language classroom aids in the development of sensitization to cultural differences.  It allows the student to operate from a “third place,” a point of estrangement, from which academic disciplines, and the world more generally, can be seen from a new and different perspective.
  • CLAC experiences are qualitatively similar to the experience of studying abroad.
  • CLAC can involve more or less immersive meaningful language use. At one end of the continuum (parallel to the experience a student might have in an “island” study abroad program), students in U.S. classrooms read, discuss and reference materials written in English by native speakers of another language, focusing on the cultural filters that inform the meaning of the text. At the other extreme, students use language to access and create meaning from within the immediate cultural context of that language.  At this point, CLAC and full immersion study abroad become one and the same.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that no U.S. institution of higher education can claim to be “global” or “internationalized” unless meaningful use of other languages (from within a more or less immersive, culturally appropriate context) is an important part of its curriculum.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that meaningful use of language isn’t exclusive to studying, working or living abroad. It can happen within any U.S. classroom, and it can occur outside of the classroom altogether, in work, internship and volunteer opportunities and in extracurricular activities.
  • CLAC opportunities should exist in the widest array of languages possible and should utilize the widest variety of authentic materials possible. If language is not seen as an academic subject or simply a means of accessing canonical literature, then the idea of “appropriate texts” extends far beyond those created in privileged languages and recognized as “literary”.
  • CLAC empowers students to be contributors of knowledge. In order to offer CLAC opportunities in a wide variety of languages, students may need to work in languages that are not understood by the faculty and/or in languages that are not formally offered within academic departments on the home campus.  This suggests the transformational potential of CLAC to shake up power structures in the classroom and on the campus and to empower students to access knowledge outside of the regular restrictions of classroom or campus administrative structures.
  • CLAC practitioners believe that true internationalization is always transformational. It demands a reassessment of the established power structures, operational standards, academic divisions and traditions of U.S. higher education institutions. If it isn’t transformational, it isn’t true internationalization.
  • CLAC is a driver of institutional transformation.
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