The Online Beacon

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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A Deep Dive into MCLA’s Language Department

Photo by Angelina Clark

¿Habla español? Parli italiano? Parlez-vous français? 你会说普通话吗? а ты говоришь по русски? Do you speak another language? Or, do you just speak English? MCLA’s language department allows students to learn another language, whether it is for personal or professional reasons.

Learning a language is a process that can be quite difficult, but it is a process that is absolutely beneficial for an infinite amount of reasons. Not only is one who can speak more than one language able to communicate with millions upon millions of additional people, but they can understand art, poetry, music, and film in their original language. Learning a second language allows one to travel to an abundance of different countries, which they can successfully navigate if the local language is understood. It is a skill that is simply invaluable, that will only improve one’s quality of life and showcase the beauty of the world and its culture, regardless of language barriers.

Like many other colleges, MCLA offers foreign language courses. The MCLA Language Department webpage states that the college offers courses in Spanish, Italian, and French. This, however, has proven to be currently inaccurate. In the spring of 2024, MCLA will be offering Italian and Spanish courses, but French courses have yet to be available. The Beacon spoke to Mariana Bolívar, Assistant Professor of Spanish and the Department Chair of the Modern Languages department about this occurrence, in addition to acquiring insight into MCLA’s language department as a whole.

Bolívar emphasizes that due to the small amount of faculty in MCLA’s language department, Spanish is usually the only language taught, in addition to the Italian course available during the Spring 2024 semester. Regarding the small number of languages offered at the college, Bolívar states that “[MCLA doesn’t] really have the students to justify bringing in another faculty for another language.” This fact, besides the Massachusetts requirement for college language courses, limits what the department can offer.

While MCLA currently only offers Spanish and Italian, the school offers a course about the concept of language and all its facets. They offer a class that is, “not a Spanish language [class], but is a class in English that is about the function of the language, other than English.” If one was taking a language course at another institution, such as French 101, they could enroll in this aforementioned Modern Language course at MCLA. At MCLA, students are required to take two classes (each three credits) to satisfy the Language, Culture, and Communication requirement (CLA). Therefore, a student who takes French 101 at another institution will also have to take another language-centric course at the college in order to fulfill the entire language requirement.

The aforementioned Modern Language class was created with students with learning disabilities in mind, a class in which they, “don’t have to engage with the process of the language itself,” as for some students who are disabled, learning a language may pose unique challenges and difficulties. “What we decided to do,” Bolívar highlights, “is create a class in English that students [can] take, allowing students to engage with languages in a different context.” In addition to students with disabilities, MCLA also has to accommodate students who already speak Spanish. To address this issue, Bolívar asks, “How do we accommodate students that are bilingual, but they cannot write?” “We created this class in English,” Bolívar states, “[but] it deals with linguistic issues.” Normally, this form of class wouldn’t be available to those without learning disabilities or those who are not heritage speakers, “but if there is room…[they] can allow students who have taken language [other than Spanish] before.”

“Most students have [taken] Spanish before,” explains Bolívar, “so they place out of Spanish 101, [and then they] only have to take one semester of Spanish 102.” “That way,” Bolívar continues, “they will be taking care of the language requirement, the state requirement, and the core language and communication requirement.” Essentially, the Modern Language course is the department’s response to external factors such as the requirements enforced by the state, in addition to the requirement that exists within MCLA’s core curriculum, and how that contrasts with the needs of students.

When asked about the prospect of expanding the number of languages taught, Bolívar states that it’s a “question of hiring…we are a really, really small program, [there is] only a minor in Spanish, we used to have French in the past…and that [professor] couldn’t work with us anymore.” Instead of adding more language options, the language department is looking to, “specifically, expand the Spanish and Italian courses [they] offer.” “For example,” Bolívar highlights, “in the summer, we will be offering a travel abroad, 5-week [course]…you [would] be traveling to Italy, [and] taking six credits of Italian.” Therefore, this Italian travel course would satisfy not only the state requirements but also the MCLA requirements for language.

MCLA’s language department is also considering offering language classes online during the school year. Bolívar herself is working to rethink the structure of her Spanish courses in order to make the classes more interesting, without compromising or changing the core content of the class. Specifically, she wants to place the learning of the Spanish language into a specific context, “for example, Spanish for the Health Professions.” “That’s a new course that I’m teaching right now, a newly-developed course,” Bolívar states, “and I really hope that this course will bring students from biology, nursing, and the sciences in general.”

Bolívar is also interested in offering, “Spanish for social workers, for example, or [for] first responders.” Additionally, Bolívar explores the concept of, “Spanish for business, Spanish for travel…[which is] kind of more integrative to what the students are already doing, therefore it becomes more meaningful.” “Not that [the language on its own] is not meaningful,” Bolívar continues, “but [they can] have a different perception of how important the language is for career development.” Bolívar stresses the importance of connecting the learning of Spanish to personal career goals, as it makes the learning of the language less “work”. Essentially, it provides a specialized reason for an individual to learn another language.

Another possibility for the language department is the creation of a certificate instead of a language minor, which could potentially be achieved after completing twelve credits instead of eighteen, which is the amount required to fulfill a language minor requirement. Bolívar acknowledges that this would be easier for a student to accomplish, as eighteen credits is a large time commitment, and has the potential to push back a student’s graduation date, especially if they already have declared a minor or two. Bolívar thinks that this would, “allow more students to be engaging with Spanish a little bit more.” While the possibility of a language-centric certificate is not confirmed, it is an idea that would make language learning more accessible to the average student.

Of course, learning part of a language, or reaching the highest degree of fluency will require a lot of effort, regardless. Regarding the typical fluency of students after they complete Spanish 101 and 102, Bolívar explains that “both of those classes are beginner [classes]…it depends on how dedicated the student is.” The level of fluency afterward can depend on previous knowledge of the language before the courses are taken, as while Spanish 101 is designed for students who have no prior knowledge of Spanish, most come into the class with a fundamental understanding of the language.

Bolívar believes that as a Liberal Arts institution, “we have really lost the significance of engaging and learning about others through language.” “When you learn another language,” states Bolívar, “you learn a different way of thinking…a different way of understanding the world.” Bolívar wonders how we can understand global differences if, “we frame our world with the same kind of linguistic parameters.” Language is more than a subject studied to further one’s career, “it is a way of thinking about the world…[Bolívar] wishes that in [the language] department, that [they] would kind of try to motivate [their] students to learn a different language because that will make students a lot more analytical.” “Learning another language allows you to extrapolate the way things are framed [in English] and how sentences are structured,” and most of all encourages individuals to think critically about the world around them.

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Angelina Clark, Web Editor

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