ERIC Identifier: ED424789
Publication Date: 1998-10-00
Author: Straight, H. Stephen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Languages across the Curriculum. ERIC Digest.
According to Lambert (1991), "We expend almost all of our national resources
for foreign language learning on first-time, low-level language learning among
high school and college students, then watch those minimal skills decay and
disappear through lack of use or reinforcement." With the exception of students
who major in languages or area studies, or who study abroad, college graduates
in the United States typically possess less non-English language proficiency
than they had when they entered college. Even students with advanced proficiency
seldom develop bilingual skills and intercultural knowledge sufficient to meet
their professional career needs by the time they graduate. As a result, the
United States chronically lacks the multilingual language proficiency it needs
to function effectively across cultural boundaries (American Council on
Although language instruction is widespread in the United States, it
typically does not lead to a high degree of proficiency or specialization. Even
colleges and universities that define language requirements for baccalaureate
and graduate degrees by acquired proficiency rather than accumulated course
credits (e.g., the University of Minnesota) fail to mandate continued use of
those skills after students have demonstrated intermediate-level proficiency. To
increase the potential for achieving advanced levels of proficiency, language
use and development must not only expand in variety and cumulative effect but it
must also mesh with student language needs and interests in a wide array of
curricular specialties (Grandin in Shoenberg & Turlington, 1998). Students
at all levels must have opportunities to employ their language skills for
purposes of immediate and lifelong value.
After a decade and a half of development at small liberal arts colleges
(Allen, Anderson, & Narvaez 1992; Jurasek in Krueger & Ryan, 1993),
Languages Across the Curriculum (LAC, pronounced as the initials L-A-C) has
emerged as a promising means to improve the cross-cultural knowledge and
purpose-specific multilingual and intercultural skills of U.S. postsecondary
THE ORIGINS AND AIMS OF LANGUAGE ACROSS THE CURRICULUM
The LAC movement follows the example set by the Writing Across
the Curriculum (WAC) movement of the 1980s, which sought to use writing as a
central learning tool in classes outside the English department. Rather than
relegating writing instruction to classes in literature or composition, WAC
provides advice and assistance to students for the inculcation of the skills
needed for writing in each curricular specialty. Similarly, LAC works with
faculty to identify the specific vocabulary and genres that students need in
order to function effectively in another language in their respective
disciplines (Fichera & Straight, 1997).
LAC also draws upon the content-based language instruction movement of the
1990s (Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 1989; Krueger & Ryan, 1993; Stryker
& Leaver, 1997). Instruction that emphasizes purposeful comprehension and
communicative production yields superior receptive and expressive accuracy,
complexity, and fluency. In brief, students who learn language for a purpose
learn it better.
LAC aims to facilitate the use of languages in a variety of meaningful
contexts and to motivate and reward students for using their multilingual skills
in every class they take at each level in the university curriculum, thus
preparing them for the cross-cultural and multilingual demands and opportunities
of a global society (Consortium for Languages Across the Curriculum, 1996).
DESIGN VARIANTS IN LAC PROGRAMMING
To respond to the
complex realities of student and faculty competencies, curricular and
institutional priorities, and individual and group interests and needs, LAC
takes a wide variety of forms (see Adams, 1996; Ryan & Riley in Shoenberg
& Turlington, 1998; Straight, 1994). For example, even when focused
exclusively on written rather than spoken language, the materials usable in an
LAC course run a wide gamut. At the high end, students grapple with primary
documents and scholarly texts they would otherwise read only in translation. At
the low end, they exercise their developing analytical skills on mass-media
items from which they can obtain facts and unique perspectives relating to the
LAC course topic.
Likewise, the extent of language use varies greatly, from just a few LAC
reading assignments sprinkled through a course, with no listening, speaking, or
writing in the second language, to exclusive employment of the language in
readings, lectures, discussion, and all written work.
Similarly, LAC personnel may consist of (1) single faculty members who choose
to modify courses in an LAC direction, (2) a partnership between language and
non- language faculty to devise joint courses, pairs of linked courses, or LAC
components for existing courses, or (3) international graduate students who
prepare substitute or supplementary assignments in any number of languages known
to LAC participants in a course and then discuss these assignments with students
outside of the regular class meetings. Any of these may function either in
isolation or with the guidance and support of LAC-experienced faculty and staff.
Assignment of credit and assessment of learning also take varying forms as a
function of whether a given LAC course focuses exclusively on language use or,
if not, how it defines and measures its desired language-instruction outcomes.
Thus, some LAC courses count both as language and non-language courses, while
others divide the credit between the two. Some count only as non-language
courses, while others provide a zero-credit, no-letter-grade (pass-only)
transcript entry for students selecting the LAC option in a course.
Some LAC courses attend only to the content-enrichment value of LAC
assignments, welcome any interested student, structure assignments to make them
accessible to elementary or elementary-plus readers (see ILR, n.d.), use the LAC
language for reading and perhaps a little listening but no required speaking or
writing, and do not assess language-skill improvement for grading purposes. At
the other extreme, LAC can adopt strict enrollment criteria (for example, only
students who have completed 4-6 semesters of college-level language study; no
native speakers allowed) and gauge language-skill gain as a component of
LAC programming has taken many different forms in response to varying needs,
priorities, strengths, resources, values, and curricular possibilities (see
e.g., Allen & Anderson in Straight, 1994).
LAC CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
LAC Learning Materials.
The identification and preparation of materials for use by LAC-participating
students typically take considerable time and effort. Only rarely will the
course-specific purposes of LAC and the language skills of participating
students make it appropriate to use textbooks and other such scholar-produced
resources aimed at a college-level audience of native speakers of the target
language. At one extreme, for example, the most appropriate materials for
courses in environmental studies, international business, or theatre may best
consist of mass-media items, such as advertisements, news stories, entertainment
reviews, editorials, or commercial Websites to which students can apply their
course acquired concepts and analytical skills, and from which they can glean
course-specific intercultural insights. At the other extreme, for a course in
biology, history, or literature, students may read original versions of works
they read in translation, primary historical documents, or technical reference
sources to obtain information and intertextual comparative insights not
Whatever the nature of the materials, whether print, audio, video, or
Web-based, construction of LAC assignments around them can pose sizeable
challenges. Unless participants have a very high level of proficiency, they
usually need background materials or specific references to other assigned
course materials in order to understand the context in which the assigned
material was created and how to apply course-specific ideas to it. At a minimum,
they need a set of study questions and a brief glossary to help them deal
effectively with the material.
Faculty Roles. Because of the long-standing separation of the study and use
of languages from the rest of the postsecondary curriculum, LAC makes unfamiliar
demands on departments and on individual faculty (Straight & Fichera in
Shoenberg & Turlington, 1998). Non-language faculty may fear that the
educational purposes of their courses will suffer with the addition of an LAC
component. Language faculty may fear that the inculcation of high-level language
skills will suffer when LAC puts languages into the service of specialized study
outside of the literary, cultural, and linguistic domains long associated with
languages in the general-education and language-specialist curricula.
Student Motivation. Students likewise may have difficulty fitting LAC into
their conception of how to structure their college education. Not only do even
the native speakers among them lack confidence in their ability to apply
intermediate-level language skills to good academic purpose, they see little
potential payoff for taking the LAC plunge. It seldom fulfills any
general-education or major requirement, and it bears no widely trumpeted
connection to career opportunities.
Curricular Placement. The requirement-filling value of LAC arguably depends
upon the emergence of new curricular components in which LAC plays an integral
component. International tracks in existing majors, international or
area-studies certificates, minors or majors, and honors and study-abroad
programs of various sorts could quite reasonably accept or require enrollment in
LAC courses. Similarly, career planning and placement offices could highlight
careers in artistic, commercial, diplomatic, and other fields in which
high-level bilinguality would open up exciting employment opportunities.
External Forces. Perhaps the greatest incentives to and resources for the
expansion of LAC come from outside of our individual colleges and universities.
The global deployment of multinational teams in commerce, industry, research,
and the arts favor the use of collaborative, multilingual learning to prepare
our graduates for the workplace. The growing multilingualism of our student
bodies and of such things as the World Wide Web provide both the reason and the
capacity for greatly enhanced intercultural, multilingual learning, while
increasing numbers of international students possess the linguistic, cultural,
and disciplinary skills and knowledge that we can employ as a powerful component
of university teaching. Partnerships with burgeoning universities abroad promise
two-way multilingual educational opportunities of unprecedented richness.
Adams, T. M. (1996). Languages across the
curriculum: Taking stock. "ADFL Bulletin," 28, 9-19.
Allen, W., Anderson, K., & Narvaez, L. (1992). Foreign languages across
the curriculum: The applied foreign language component. "Foreign Language
Annals," 25, 11-19.
American Council on Education. (1989). "What we can't say can hurt us: A call
for foreign language competence by the year 2000." Washington, DC: American
Council on Education.
Brinton, D. M., Snow, M. A., & Wesche, M. B. (1989). "Content-based
second language instruction." Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Consortium for Languages Across the Curriculum. (1996). "Languages Across the
Curriculum: A declaration of principles and practices" [on-line]. Available:
http://WWW.Language.Brown.edu/LAC. [Also reprinted in Shoenberg &
Turlington, 1998, 16-17]
Fichera, V. M., & Straight, H. S. (Eds.). (1997). "Using languages across
the curriculum: Diverse disciplinary perspectives" (Translation Perspectives X).
Binghamton: State University of New York, Center for Research in Translation.
ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable). (n.d.). "Language skill level
descriptions: Reading" [on-line]. Available:
Krueger, M. & Ryan, F. (Eds.). (1993). "Language and content: Discipline-
and content-based approaches to language study," 85-102. Lexington, MA: D.C.
Lambert, R. D. (1991). A national plan for a use-oriented foreign language
system (NFLC Position Paper on Foreign Language Policy No. 2). Washington, DC:
National Foreign Language Center.
Shoenberg, R. E., & Turlington, B. (Eds.). (1998). "Next steps for
languages across the curriculum: Prospects, problems, and promise." Washington,
DC: American Council on Education.
Straight, H. S., (Ed.). (1994). "Languages across the curriculum: Invited
essays on the use of foreign languages throughout the postsecondary curriculum"
(Translation Perspectives VII). Binghamton: State University of New York, Center
for Research in Translation. [ED 374 646.]
Stryker, S. B., & Leaver, B. L. (Eds.). (1997). "Content-based
instruction for the foreign language classroom: Models and methods." Washington,
DC: Georgetown University Press.
This Digest reflects countless conversations with Ellen H. Badger,
co-originator of Binghamton's LxC program; Marilyn Gaddis Rose, founding
associate director of LxC; and Virginia M. Fichera, founder of the SUNY College
at Oswego's LAC program.