Turning Professional: Content-Based Communication and the Evolution of a Cross-Cultural Language Curriculum


  • Gisela Hoecherl-Alden

    1. University of Pittsburgh
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      Gisela Hoecherl-Alden (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Lecturer, German Language Program Director, and TA Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Abstract: The fact that nine out of ten students drop out of language classes between the elementary and advanced levels demonstrates the need for addressing the traditional division of language and content courses prevailing in most modem language departments. Furthermore, the increasing demand for professional language classes makes it necessary to adjust the overall undergraduate program so that these courses fit meaningfully into the mainly humanities-oriented curriculum. If students are to bridge the gap between form and meaning, courses need to move from communicative training at the elementary level through an intermediate stage that combines communicative and content-based instruction. Finally, training students successfully for future careers in a global economy means that courses cannot focus only on content and form, but also must include a thorough development of cultural awareness. Applying ethnographic intercultural training methods to the language classroom ensures that the students attain not only linguistic but also cultural proficiency. The course structure presented in this paper demonstrates that professional school students can be trained alongside humanities majors by making minor but far-reaching adjustments to the elementary and intermediate language program, and without placing undue constraints on departmental resources.