Expanding Interest in Learning Language

Modern Languages and Literature table during International Education Week

May 15, 2019
When Tina Isabelli moved from Illinois to Washington to become chair of Gonzaga’s Modern Languages & Literature Department, she brought with her years of experience consulting with the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL) on modern language program administration and strategies to boost language course enrollment.

The move opened up an option ADFL’s program directors just couldn’t pass up; the expertise Isabelli brought with her to the West Coast would benefit a wider audience if the organization could expand their annual seminars. With language programs across the U.S. facing challenges in maintaining enrollments, Isabelli welcomed the opportunity to build meaningful dialog among her regional peers, so she volunteered Gonzaga to co-host the very first ADFL Summer Seminar West here in Spokane May 22-25.

To defeat the flawed theory that learning a foreign language is unnecessary when so many people across the planet speak English, the three-day seminar will largely focus on how institutions have succeeded in attracting more students to learning a second (or third!) language. Isabelli reached out to her counterparts at Whitworth and Washington State University to collaborate on the program, and during their brainstorming sessions, they also identified an underlying issue: that if four-year universities don’t start collaborating with high school programs and articulating with community colleges, they’re missing a prime recruiting opportunity. Spokane Falls Community College and Gonzaga Preparatory School were logical institutions to bring into the fold, and together the committee identified 12 topics of critical importance to be covered at the conference.

Sessions will address a range of topics, such as how to boost enrollment by creating relevant courses—like the medical Spanish course Isabelli created to accommodate Gonzaga nursing students’ rigorous schedule—and how to incorporate technology and other innovations into the classroom, a plenary session that will include GU Modern Languages & Literature faculty members Rebecca Stephanis and Ute Perz.

The seminar will also feature higher education administrators, with College of Arts & Sciences Dean Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak, herself multilingual, participating in a session addressing administrators’ perspectives on how to make departments strong.

“The ADFL summer seminar not only informs faculty on best practices of advocating for language programs, but it provides a platform to share experiences with colleagues across the country,” says Isabelli. “Most importantly, it reminds us of how integral language programs are to meeting the goals of liberal arts institutions, one being that through the process of creating dialogue with other cultures through learning the language, students have the opportunity to examine their own values and assumptions to fit into the greater global context.”

For more information about the ADFL Seminars visit adfl.mla.org/Seminars or email Chirstina Isabelli at isabelli@gonzaga.edu