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Donato, Students Cutting-Edge Work Presented Before ACTFL

Published: June 30, 2011

Clorinda Donato, a member of the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department (RGRLL) since 1988, presented with two graduate students in San Diego before an audience of language-acquisition specialists at a conference of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). They discussed their experience teaching a cutting-edge sequence of French for Hispanophones courses at CSULB.

Philana Rustin, who earned her double bachelor of arts degree in Theater Arts and French at CSULB before acquiring her master’s in French here in 2010, and Nicolas Bordage, who earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and his master’s degree in French at CSULB before enrolling in a doctoral program at the University of Miami, each assisted in research and writing the piece.

A jointly written article emerged out of their conference presentation. Titled “French for Spanish Speakers through Intercomprehension: A Method of Multiple Language Acquisition for the Romance Languages with Implications for the Future,” this article will be published in the Fall 2011 Issue of the Association Departments of Foreign Languages Bulletin (ADFL Bulletin).

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“This is a validation of the work of our French and Francophone Studies section on this innovative area of teaching,” said Donato, the new George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies, the first community-funded chair in the United States. “A graduate student must perform like a scholar. They’ve got to go to conferences and they’ve got to write and publish. What we try to do at CSULB is take our students on the same trajectory as ours. This is the real experience of academic life as it is lived.”

She thanked Markus Muller, who has been RGRLL’s Language Program coordinator since 2001, for the teacher’s assistant program he leads which made the publication possible. “Faculty must work together to do what is best for the students,” she said. “Without Markus Muller and his TA program, we couldn’t do this kind of research.”

Muller thinks the TA program and the French for Hispanophones courses reveal a department that prides itself on looking ahead. “We try to be proactive,” he said. “That outlook applies to the way we teach languages. We may not be the biggest language program compared to some, but we still pack a punch and publications or programs like French for Hispanophones are the proof. Look where the graduates go for other degrees. Look at our placement.

“I think this program really does what we think it can do,” he added. “It represents a paradigmatic change in the way we teach languages. After all, someone who can teach both French and Spanish is much more marketable. We think the students who emerge from this program will be very marketable. It represents a small revolution in the traditional way they’ve been teaching languages. I see it as a way of escaping the traditional binary mode of teaching a target language to a group of students who are assumed to all be native speakers of English. The multilingual approach that the French for Spanish speakers method provides takes into account the languages, such as Spanish, that students know when they come to the university. It is inclusive of their previous language skills and recognizes them as valid pathways into the acquisition of a third, fourth, or fifth language. This department and this program provide an understanding of how languages work.”

The French and Francophone Studies program was praised by Etienne Farreyre, deputy cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Los Angeles.

“We applaud Dr. Donato and CSULB for their five-year participation in the French for Hispanophones courses,” he commented. The program which includes fundamental and intermediate courses, are open to those who have had two semesters of college Spanish or three years of high school Spanish, as well as heritage or native speakers of Spanish.

Farreyre praised the level of cooperation between the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S and the RGRLL faculty members who have established and grown the project.

“Programs like these receive our support because the French government is interested in bringing the French language to the world,” he said. “This program is a very good way of catching a whole new kind of student. This can mean a Spanish-speaking Californian or a student from Wisconsin who studied Spanish for four years there and is ready for rapid learning in French. As long as the student speaks Spanish, there is much to enjoy in this program. It is a good way to learn a language in a world where multiple language knowledge is more and more important. It is a great chance for students to learn a language that could be important to their careers. We’ve been glad to support this program and Clorinda Donato has done an awesome job with it.”

Donato, Students Present Before ACTFL
Markus Muller (l), Clorinda Donato, Philana Rustin and Nicolas Bordage.

Article co-author Rustin is currently pursuing a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and will instruct French for Spanish Speakers once again for CSULB this fall. “Oh my gosh, I love this program,” she said. “This department has been a huge part of my life for the last decade. I’m so fortunate to be able to continue here.”

She was especially pleased to present her article’s research before the recent conference of the ACFTL, the biggest of its kind in the U.S.

“This article could not have been written without the experience of teaching in the classroom which I received here,” she said. “You can have ideas about how things are going to work. But when you really use them, you quickly find out it doesn’t always work that way. Trying to figure out what works best for the students in the classroom has been a profound experience.” Rustin will pursue a doctoral degree in second-language acquisition and plans on making Intercomprehension of the Romance Languages and French for Spanish speakers the central focus of her research.

Article co-author Bordage was pleased by his participation in the campus research. “This experience has been great,” he said. “Its publication means more than just writing an article. It signifies all the support I received from the department on my way to a degree. It was as much an accomplishment of the program as it was a personal achievement. Joining this program is a dream come true for me.”

Rustin praised the teaching assistant’s program that supported her research for the article. “The scholarly training we received here is really good,” she said. “The minute you step into the classroom, you put your teacher’s hat on. I enjoy having the freedom to do what I know will be successful in the classroom. You learn how to teach by having the chance to try things out. Learning to practice the art of teaching can be very difficult. The TA program at CSULB forms the basis for everything students are expected to do later on.”

Bordage was pleased by his access to CSULB faculty members. “In a research-oriented university, it is difficult to get access to the faculty,” he said. “At CSULB, I knew the faculty would take care of me by making it easier for me to move from a master’s to a doctoral program.” Bordage speaks from experience, as he is a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami with full support. He is pursuing a degree with a triple emphasis in French, Spanish and film studies, those areas he was able to pursue here. “The future of the humanities lies in the merging of skills acquired through a number of avenues. The value of interdisciplinarity is tangible in the careers of these two students,” Donato and Muller emphasized.

Rustin encouraged other students with interests in language to think about enrolling in the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures department.

“This department can change people’s lives,” she said. “Even if you don’t decide to major in a language, having it there as a support for any other kind of study can make you that much more marketable. Having that is something that no one can take away from you.”

Bordage told potential language majors to enjoy the freedom available at CSULB. “You get to study what you like,” he said. “I could have enrolled in engineering or computer science just as easily. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to study Spanish, French and film, and I had that chance here.”

Farreyre looked forward to continuing the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States’ support of language study at CSULB. “We trust the educators here,” he said. “We look forward to continuing the consulate’s support in the fall of 2011 for training Spanish teachers at CSULB. It will be a good chance to see the difference between students who learn to speak French the regular way and those who learned through special courses. I see this program expanding to new levels and new places.”

–Richard Manly