The Untold Story of the BLC

As the BLC completes its 25th academic year I can’t help looking back at what we have accomplished since I founded the Center in 1994. Our mission has always been to enhance the effectiveness of our teaching and the quality of our learning environments; to support research by language instructors and our ability to produce new teaching materials; to develop library and media archives and provide the technological support we need; and to offer opportunities to learn of new research developments in language pedagogy, SLA theory and sociolinguistics. We have done all this and in marvelous ways. Our lecture series, our BLC fellows program, our film clip archive, our language teaching services, our L2 Journal have been the envy of other Language Centers around the country. The UC Berkeley Administration has been most supportive of our endeavors and has managed to keep funding the BLC despite general budget cuts across campus.
And yet, in the larger scheme of things, we have not been able to change many of the perceptions about language learning and teaching that are still prevalent in our respective departments and in our society at large. Teaching language is still seen as a less valuable profession than teaching literature; students increasingly expect to learn how to become fluent in a foreign code, rather than gaining a deep understanding of a foreign culture; they read less and less and we have to work more and more at keeping them “motivated”. Our working conditions have not necessarily improved. And the research developments made available by the BLC often only underscore the gap between our pedagogic realities and an inaccessible world of research “out there”.
But have we been looking in the right places? This year, more than any other year, I have realized that the main achievement of the BLC is not in its “mission accomplished”, but in quite a different story that has remained largely untold. Instead of isolated and disenfranchised language instructors, scattered in various departments, without any departmental nor institutional voice, as was the case before 1994, we now have a warm family of language educators, united by common concerns about the challenges presented by teaching languages other than English in a fundamentally monolingually minded American society. The BLC fellows have shown us again and again the research potential of language instructors if given course release time; Annamaria’s Words in Action and Niko’s Kabarett have shown us the creativity and multilingual imagination that BLC teachers have inspired in their students. Potluck dinners at Rutie’s, Rick’s and my house have triggered the most stimulating discussions on the bigger issues of the day, from the teaching of culture in language classes to Google Translate to American electoral politics. Not to mention the annual BLC picnic in Live Oak Park, that features the best of each language teachers’ culinary delights.
It is that deep sense of community that we have built over the years, the feeling that it is OK to be politically incorrect provided the wine is good and the food is out of this world. For, language teachers are not only ardent conversationalists and talented actors, they are also expert cooks. That is the untold story of the BLC. I want to thank Rick, Mark, Victoria and the whole BLC team for having carried our BLC family through its 25th year and for having further enabled the telling of its untold story.

Claire Kramsch Founder and former Director of the BLC