I recently participated in the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association’s 67th annual conference in Vancouver, Washington. The RMMLA continues to be one of the best literature and language conferences. It has great variety, excellent presentations, and a genuine esprit de corps among participants. Everyone is always willing to share and discuss their ideas about teaching and research. It has a wide scope that includes sessions on American, British, Canadian, as well as most foreign languages and literatures. Consequently, it provides an opportunity to speak to and learn from colleagues outside of one’s own field. The French language is well represented by allied MLA organizations such as Women in French and Conseil international d’études francophones. In this year’s conference, there were 14 French literature and pedagogy sessions and 9 general pedagogy ones. Generally, I alternate my presentations on literature and pedagogy. This year, I presented a paper on “The Mother Figure and Narrative Voices in Sarraute and Yourcenar”.
It is difficult to choose one particular session among the many thought-provoking ones I attended on literature, linguistics, and pedagogy. In literature, I particularly enjoyed the sessions on “French Cultural and Literary Theory”, “Intertextuality and Feminine Voices”, “French Literature since 1800”, and “Performing Gender”. In pedagogy, the presentations on “Practical Approaches to Teaching Language”, “Practical Approaches to Teaching Culture”, and “Teaching Foreign Languages” were of particular interest.
Although it is difficult to choose one outstanding presentation, three were of particularly practical usefulness. The first was on language, culture, and translation where the presenter discussed her course on translation not for professional translators but for advanced students of language. She explained how she used concepts from linguistics, semiotics, and structuralism to teach language and culture(1). Often, the communicative method widely used currently shies away from translation as a learning tool. This presentation reminded us all of the usefulness of translation. While I believe that translation should not be systematically used in elementary classes because we don’t want the students to depend on English to learn French, it can be a very useful tool in more advanced classes. The second presentation was on error correction. The presenter shared her preliminary research and results on the effects of error correction on student learning. She used error correction as homework and required students to give weekly brief narratives about their errors and subsequent corrections.(2) The third presentation was teaching languages to future professionals needing different language and cultural knowledge to succeed in the workplace. She shared great information on colleges and universities that offered Specific Purposes Programs which prepare students to use the language they learned in order to function in a wide range of fields—business, medical, law, etc.(3) She very aptly demonstrated the perils of the misuse of language that lead to not only cultural but also professional misunderstandings. She recounted anecdotes of students who entered the professional field after graduation and struggled to apply the languages they had learned in the elementary classes to situations requiring a much more specific and sophisticated language use. While in most universities, the emphasis is on language and literature, it would be wise to revisit existing curricula and consider offering hybrid courses aimed at professions outside of teaching. We are always reminding our students of the usefulness of languages in fields other than teaching and translation, but are we truthfully preparing them for these other fields in our regular language classes? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider our offerings and include language classes for specific purposes.
The benefit of what I experience and learn in the conference is far-reaching for it applies not only to my own professional development but also to the improvement of our lower division program and our students in general. It enhances our efforts to continue to strive to deliver excellent instruction.
I am grateful to the Berkeley Language Center for providing lecturers with opportunities for professional development and conference attendance through the Travel Grant Program.
1. Ann Williams, Metropolitan State University of Denver. Language, Culture, and Translation. 67th RMMLA Conference, October 9-12, Vancouver, WA
2. Vilma Concha-Chiaraviglio, Meredith College. Strategies to Assess and Use Student Errors to Promote Learning. 67th RMMLA Conference, October 9-12, Vancouver, WA
3. Concetta Blechschmidt, Kenyon College. From Student to Prepared Professional: Incorporating Professions-Specific Terms and Using Spanish Literature as a Pedagogical Tool in Basic and Intermediate Spanish Courses. 67th RMMLA Conference, October 9-12, Vancouver, WA