For the past five months I have been studying Spanish, in anticipation of one day being able to converse with Spanish-speaking people during interactions as a Dean. I had not studied a foreign language since high school French, and hoped that I would be able to pick up Spanish quickly. Alas, language learning does not appear to be one of my strengths, so it’s going to be years until I’m fluent. Oh well.

When I get to UW-Parkside I’ll look into Spanish language offerings in the College of Arts and Humanities. I’ll also speak with my fellow Dean about an interesting idea I came across a year or so ago. I can’t remember where I saw it (hence, no link; sorry), but the essence was that we have entered an age where global citizens can speak to each other fairly well with the assistance of translation devices, so one does not need to be fluent in a foreign language for visits to other countries. The article went on to suggest that a curriculum could be developed that taught students to be world travellers who could quickly acquire linguistic and cultural basics once they hit the ground overseas. I’ve got to do a search to try to find this article!

There will probably always be a place for full scale college-level language instruction for students who need to be fluent in a foreign language in order to live and work for an extended period in a specific international location, but I wonder if a “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum would be useful for the millions of students who will forget most of their language instruction after receiving caps and gowns? The curriculum could include engaging online language learning videos, such as the BBC’s “Mi Vida Loca,” which “takes you on an intrigue mystery adventure to Madrid and beyond in 22 episodes, [in about] 10 min each, covering basic learning points for Spanish absolute beginners.” I watched each episode as part of supplemental language lessons suggested by mi maestra de español fabulosa [my fabulous Spanish teacher], Lucy Cantellano Gallina.

Perhaps the “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum could also include one-semester courses in targeted languages, with a goal of preparing students to be expert users of translation devices, such as smart phone apps. Not only would students be exposed to a variety of gadgets, they would be instructed in recognizing when queries produce flawed responses. For example, at the end of the first paragraph of this post I wanted to use a Spanish expression for “oh well.” BabelXL gave me “bueno,” and Google translate suggested “oh bien.” I know enough Spanish to recognize that “bueno” is “good,” and while “bien” is most often used for “well,” “oh” is not Spanish!  Yo escribí a mi maestra de español para recibir una mejor traducción. (Put that in an online translator and see what you get!) She replied, “Hmm, it’s hard, because we don’t use an expression at the end of something (conversation or situation) that did not work out the way we expected it to.” That’s the type of cultural context the “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum should impart. Another example: the curriculum could inform students that “Sapo verde! Que te la pases bien!” posted to my Facebook page is slang for “Happy Birthday! Have a good one,” instead of the “green toad, may it pass you well” translation delivered by BabelXL.

Being the fan of science fiction that I am, I’ll end by noting that all of the above will one day be irrelevant when we develop injectable translator microbes. In the meantime and in-between times [as a student used to say to me], we should experiment with established teaching and learning practices.