Diversity in Foreign Language Teaching and Learning Roundtable

We’ve all been there before. You’re in a beginner language course and your writing assignment for the week: write a composition describing your ideal boyfriend for the girls, and your ideal girlfriend for the guys. Or maybe you have to act out a skit where a husband and a wife are having dinner with their two perfect children. Seems a little too Norman Rockwell-esque yea?

Well a group of Middlebury students certainly thought so last April when a panel discussion sponsored by MOQA on International and Queer issues roused up the idea of diversity in foreign language education. Yesterday this same group of students, joined by some of Middlebury’s foreign language faculty met up in RAJCon for a roundtable discussion on the issues of gender, race, class and disability in the foreign language classroom.

As one who is looking to become a foreign language educator, I found the talk to be fascinating and very insightful. It is great to know that we have faculty member who are dedicated to taking issues of diversity to heart in the classroom. Some Middlebury specific things that were mentioned included:

  • Sensitivity training for faculty members; being able to admit discomfort with a certain topic
  • Giving more opportunities to move past heteronormativity in the classroom
  • Pointing out offenses and out-of-date examples in textbooks (such as the infamous 30 year old French in Action workbook used in beginner French classes)
  • Pre-departure meetings on the issue of being queer and going abroad

The rest of the meeting took a very broad perspective, focusing on how we reach every student in the foreign language classroom; a unique challenge given you are working with the culture of each individual student as well as the culture of the language you are teaching. Linguistic issues were raised as well with the issue of gender and language. Can a language be sexist or is it the culture that is sexist? How do we degender language and begin to break down labels?

Middlebury has always had a knack for languages, and I think discourses between students, faculty and staff, such as this roundtable, will only serve to make our programs in foreign language acquisition even stronger. I personally look forward to more discussions like this in the future.

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