deans-corner-3.pngWelcome to the College of Arts & Letters Dean's Corner, where Dean Karin Wurst shares news, thoughts, and views on issues related to the arts and humanities. Here we focus on the present conditions of the liberal arts, and more importantly, the future steps we are taking to successfully create an environment that is innovating and inspiring for all.

How Languages are Learned Today


by Dean Karin Wurst, April 2014


It is simplistic to assume that language can be quickly “picked up”; language learning clearly requires substantial practice and coaching. Given the promises and marketing by ‘for-profit’ language providers, research universities are ideally positioned to offer a more realistic sense of how languages are learned, what approaches and methods research has shown to work, and illuminate the various proficiency options and the time investment  needed to achieve language learning.  

Insights from learning theories have significantly altered our understanding of how languages are learned and have prompted changes in pedagogies. At the same time, the increasing sophistication of technology (including adaptive technologies and the increased use of mobile devices) has allowed for more flexibility in the language curriculum.

Current communicative methods focus on social interaction conducted on a target language. Students extract information from authentic communication (written and spoken) targeted at the learner’s interests and personal experiences. The language classroom is linked with language activities outside the classroom through increasingly sophisticated technologies on the one hand and efforts to increase the student’s interest in study abroad and other high impact learning activities like internships or service learning opportunities in target language communities. Study abroad is identified as one of the most transformative experiences of undergraduate education and is, therefore, identified by Georg Kuh (2008) as a “high-impact” educational practice.

Therefore, the College of Arts & Letters (CAL) at MSU remains committed to the notion that all students who major in our departments should know at least one language other than English because 21st-century domestic and global life is not “English only” (http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-su12/rifkin.cfm).

Language Opportunities at MSU -  Innovative Approaches

Collaborating through the interdisciplinary Center for Foreign Language Advancement (CeLTA), the faculties and graduate students from the two language departments at Michigan State University are creating not only significant technology and advanced pedagogies, but are also creating hybrid language (and some entirely on-line) courses that offer more flexibility than traditional language courses, so that students have an easier time fitting language courses into their schedule. They are also able to target various levels of proficiency for those students and faculty who need language for specific purposes.