During registration periods, students searching online for language courses often get frustrated. Why? You won’t find “Spanish” under the “Spanish” department or even under “Languages.” You have to search in “Modern Languages.”
But now the search is easier. All of Augsburg’s language courses can be found under the heading of “Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies.” The department formerly known as Modern Languages has been renamed, reflecting a new curricular emphasis on context and culture rather than simply the grammatical aspect of language education.
Omitting culture education from a language curriculum “shuts down interest in people who don’t think of themselves as linguists and who want to learn about the culture,” said Frankie Shackelford, the department’s chair. “Most students choose language for International Relations majors…Why not re-contextualize the study of languages so [culture] is from day one incorporated?”
The department’s hopes to revolutionize the way language students think about their studies. “Right now language is categorized as a graduation skill, but it is a tool,” Shackelford said. Students should learn that languages are not the definition of the cultures in which they are used; rather, the cultures are important contexts to be studied.
The change doesn’t just affect the department’s name. New courses will be added, including Introduction to Cultural Studies. This “gateway course” will be taken before a student enters into their major. Several culture classes will be added to the International Relations and Language major curricula as well.
A second addition is the option to study Farsi, an ancient Persian language. “We’re excited about Farsi,” said Shackelford. “It brings us away from the European and Western focus.” Augsburg will be the first post-secondary school in the Twin Cities to offer Farsi.
The department is also attempting to generate more interest in study abroad programs and intends to include short-term study abroad in the new major track. Language and cultural studies are to be paired completely, in the hopes that studying language will generate interest in culture, while interest in culture will encourage students to study language.
The change ultimately reflects Augsburg’s mission of creating a global community. Restructuring the department and incorporating culture education into the curriculum will encourage interest in cross-cultural studies and emphasize language education’s importance in effective global interaction. “One can never thoroughly understand a culture without knowledge of language,” Shackelford said.