Simpson Takes Lead in Mapping Future of World Language Education

By Alex Kirkpatrick ’18

Why not Simpson?

Why shouldn’t a small liberal arts college in the middle of Iowa take the lead in fostering a discussion about the way world languages are taught in the future?

As the French say, c’est toujours le bon moment (it’s always the right time).

Simpson’s World Language Culture Studies program recently hosted more than 100 educators from 44 institutions throughout the country at their inaugural conference, “Moving from Crisis Management to Innovation: Reimagining the Role of World Languages in the 21st-Century Academy.”

Through a series of provocative plenary addresses, college administrators and educators benefited from Simpson’s lead in creating new and implementable plans for world language programs at their institutions.

Facing the new realities of tight budgets and tight student schedules, Simpson professors like Sharon Wilkinson are working with colleagues to find innovative ways to keep students involved in learning languages—everything from making the curriculum more flexible to exploring hybrid models of teaching.

“Why shouldn’t Simpson lead the way in world language and culture studies?” said Wilkinson, professor of French and Department Chair of World Language and Culture Studies. “We have a highly creative and highly collaborative faculty that works effectively together.”

Simpson has long been a pioneer in World Language Culture Studies.

Moving beyond familiar methods of teaching world languages, Simpson offers firsthand interaction and a need for a language — no textbooks required. Long gone are the days of grammar workbooks, menial required readings and comprehension tests.

Through an idea proposed by academic dean Steve Griffith, the conference launched a discussion about how language departments might innovate to define higher education in the 21st century.

Wilkinson said there is a concern within higher education that language programs are being sacrificed because of budget constraints. This is particularly troublesome in an era where goals of global citizenship figure prominently in college mission statements.

“If a department can say, ‘Hey, we’re here to integrate culture and help give students transferrable skills and help students understand the world,’ those are the missions and central issues of the institution,” Griffith said.

The idea of the conference took shape, and it attracted faculty and administrators from colleges and universities around the country. Simpson officials were happily surprised by the amount of interest and the number of people who attended.

“The way our language department is teaching world languages is very different and very exciting,” Griffith said.

Said Wilkinson: “We had hoped to have a positive impact [with the conference], but we hadn’t imagined the depth and scope that were actually the case.”

Participants of the conference said their experience was transformative.

“This conference made me rethink some of my own teaching and some potential reform that I can make in the design of my classes,” said Erin Joyce, professor of French at Baker University.

By launching an opportunity for collaboration between administrators and language faculty members to explore proactive and outside-of-the-box approaches, Simpson is poised to play a defining role in encouraging institutions to embrace new ways of teaching world languages.

“My hope is that we can continue to attract and serve increasing numbers of students at all levels of our programs so that more and more Simpson grads will have intercultural skills and knowledge that will open doors for them in the future,” Wilkinson said.