This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.
UConn Works with School System to
Coordinate Foreign Language Study
October 25, 1999

It's no secret that students entering college have a wide range of academic backgrounds and experiences. And nowhere is this more true than in foreign languages. But for the most part, high school and college have been two separate worlds.

For the past two years, representatives of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, the School of Education, and the Glastonbury public school system, have been trying to change that, by working together to improve the coordination between high school and college in the study of foreign languages and cultures.

"We need a citizenry that is much more linguistically and culturally competent."

Christine Brown
Director of Foreign Languages,
Glastonbury Public Schools

The group is one of eight selected from around the country for funding from the Modern Language Association as a national model of articulation. It attracted the attention of the MLA not only because the Glastonbury schools have a long tradition of foreign language study starting in the elementary grades and the UConn School of Education's integrated bachelor's/master's degree program in education, but also because of the involvement of a third partner, the Department of Modern and Classical Languages.

"It's very unusual to have this kind of rapport among the three groups," says Christine Brown, director of foreign languages for the Glastonbury public schools.

Learning About Each Other
The three began with activities to increase awareness in both the public schools and at the University of the practices and environments of each type of institution. "Just having people learn about each other is a huge benefit," says Brown.

Last spring, for example, a group of modern and classical languages faculty sat in on a second grade, a middle school and a high school foreign language class in Glastonbury. And staff from UConn's multimedia language center worked with teachers in the K-12 system as well as with faculty and teaching assistants at the University to teach them how to use technology appropriately in foreign language study.

Student Survey
Last year, the three partners conducted a survey, to find out how students at UConn felt about the opportunities for learning foreign languages at the University, and to compare the experiences of students who came from Glastonbury High school with those in the general population.

The survey, the first of its kind, was conducted by a master's student in education, Courtney Gosselin, who graduated in May and is now teaching Spanish at Saugus High School in Massachusetts. With the help of the Center for Survey Research & Analysis, she surveyed by phone 150 out of the 200 Glastonbury High School graduates at UConn and an additional 200 students from the general population.

Despite the generally more extensive language experience of Glastonbury graduates, the findings were in many instances surprisingly similar:

  • among both groups, only 19 percent continued to study foreign languages at UConn;

  • nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of each group said the reason they study a foreign language is that it is a requirement;

  • students in both groups were largely unaware of many of UConn's facilities for language learning, such as the multimedia language center or the foreign language residence floor; and

  • students in both groups mostly did not know about opportunities for non-language majors to use foreign languages, such as the Linkage Through Language program.

The findings show that students need more information about the relevance of learning language and the ways they can practice their skills in college, says Barbara Lindsey, director of the multimedia language center in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, who with Tim Reagan, a professor of curriculum and instruction, is heading the University's foreign language articulation efforts.

Not only does mastery of a foreign language increase job prospects after graduation, she says, but "at the college level, learning a foreign language gives students an opportunity to explore their own culture through the lens of another language and its culture, providing them with a richer perspective on their place in the global village."

Gosselin adds that she tells students in her high school Spanish class they will have more job opportunities if they know the language. "I say, 'look through the job ads and see how many bilingual jobs are advertised,'" she says.

There were some important differences between the two groups in the survey data:

  • more students from Glastonbury (56 percent) began learning a foreign language by third grade than those in the general population (4 percent);

  • students who began learning a foreign language prior to sixth grade were more likely to continue studying a language in college, although the numbers in the survey were not large enough to draw a firm conclusion;

  • the number of students who began studying a foreign language because it was a requirement but continued because of personal interest was nearly three times higher among Glastonbury graduates (18 percent) than among the general population (7 percent);

  • a slightly higher percentage of Glastonbury graduates than students in the general population are majoring in languages (5 percent and 2 percent, respectively); and

  • whereas none of the general population began learning a new language at college, 2 percent of Glastonbury students did.

As a result of the survey, the Department of Modern and Classical Languages is stepping up its outreach to schools across the state, through visits, technology workshops and a newsletter, to make teachers and students aware of the opportunities for foreign language study at the college level.

"We want our students to know about new types of courses, that they can switch languages, take critical languages, that there are modules in language and culture and exciting opportunities in language and business," says Brown.

The survey has also underscored for faculty and administrators the fact that students enter the University with very different backgrounds and that this needs to be addressed in planning. The languages department is now working with Glastonbury schools to evaluate new instruments of placement.

This semester the languages department began offering a joint course in methods of teaching foreign languages with the School of Education. Teaching assistants will be exposed to K-12 certification requirements along with interns in education. "It's the start of helping our teaching assistants, who will likely teach at the college level, begin to collaborate and interact with student interns who will probably go on to teach in the K-12 system," says Lindsey.

Extending the Scope
Based on the results of the survey, the partners are now submitting a proposal for federal funding to conduct a four-year nationwide survey of foreign language preparedness at the secondary and post-secondary levels, including the perspectives of all parties involved - something that has not been done before.

"There has to be more dialogue between K-12 teachers and teachers at the college level in order to ensure that students' experience is continuous, deep, well articulated and worth the effort, especially in foreign languages," says Brown. "We need a citizenry that is much more linguistically and culturally competent than we already have. The only way to achieve that is via K-16 collaboration ."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu