California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

French Representatives Visit Campus, RGRLL to View Program

Published: April 1, 2009

Representatives of the French government and education establishment visited CSULB in February to mark the ongoing success of an important new language program in the Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures Department (RGRLL) that offers French at an accelerated pace to students who speak Spanish.

“We have received funding from the French government for the past four years to teach specialized courses related to French for Spanish-speaking students,” said Clorinda Donato, who joined RGRLL in 1988. “The French government sent a delegation of three experts to campus including Pierre Escudé, professor at the University of Toulouse’s Teacher Training College; Pierre Janin, General Inspector of Cultural Action for the French Ministry of Culture and Communication; and Catherine Pétillon, education attaché for the Washington, D.C.-based French Embassy.”

This program is a way to allow students to use their knowledge of one language to learn a new one, said Donato, who in 2005 was named Chevalier of the French Order of the Palmes Académiques, an award honoring academics and educators that Napoleon founded in 1808. “It is a way to validate a potential for linguistic competence these students don’t know they have,” she said. “With instruction that validates their knowledge of Spanish through a method that emphasizes the intercomprehension of the Romance languages, Spanish-speaking students are at a clear advantage when it comes to acquiring a second Romance language.”

The CSULB program drew praise from the French Embassy’s Pétillon. “The program here is a good one,” she said. “It serves a growing population of Spanish speakers in California. This kind of program gives these students a better chance at improving their language skills. These students speak both English and Spanish, so they are bilingual already; what they don’t realize is that they are this close to being trilingual. When students add a knowledge of French to their abilities in English and Spanish, they have acquired three of the world’s most important languages. And linguistic research has proven that greater language ability makes for greater personal success. In today’s world, that also translates into greater economic success as growing numbers of companies seek employees who can speak three languages.”

Janin underscored the importance of speaking more than one language. “The impact of globalization affects the languages we speak,” he said. “Language is the first link in the chain for any human activity. Language is more than a tool. It is part of the human condition. It molds one’s point of view about the world. It is the responsibility of language teachers to prepare their students to live in that larger world. Understanding the relationship between Romance languages deepens the understanding of all Romance languages. It enables the students to enter the family of language.

“One of the things that attracted the French government to CSULB was the fact that French and Spanish are housed in the same department, something you don’t find in the UC system, where French and Spanish are taught in separate departments. By residing in the same department CSULB faculty are able to offer a team approach, a unique advantage when encouraging students to pursue multiple languages,” said Donato. Members of the team include Claire Martin, professor of Spanish, who developed the program with Clorinda Donato, Markus Muller, associate professor of French and language coordinator for RGRLL, and lecturer Tri Tran, lecturer, a specialist in Romance linguistics who teaches in both the French and Spanish programs.

RGRLL surveyed its enrollment and discovered that close to 70 percent of those students seeking French and Italian instruction were heritage speakers of Spanish. “What began in 2005 as a small French government grant of $3,500 to support this project, including student scholarships, has grown in 2009 to $10,400,” Donato said. “We will present the results of our program at the conference of the American Council on Foreign Language Teaching in San Diego in December 2009.”

One of the program’s more innovative features will be initiated this Fall. The intensive hybrid course will offere accelerated instruction in French through traditional, in-class instruction enhanced by means of a technology interface. “Speaking will be the focus of the on-site meetings, while reading, writing and listening activities will be practiced off-site, even in the student’s home, anywhere, anytime,” she said. “We’re very excited about this. It has been made possible thanks to the blended learning initiative sponsored by CSULB’s Office of the Provost, which provides support and training.”

Long Beach is an excellent place to offer such a program, Donato believes. “CSULB has been designated a Hispanic-serving institution,” she said. “Our enrollment is over 25 percent Latino, which makes CSULB an ideal location for a program like this because we have a critical mass of Spanish-speaking students. You really couldn’t offer a program of French to Spanish speakers in New Hampshire.”

The program reflects RGRLL’s commitment to community outreach. “When you have tools, you need to build,” she said. “When you look around this department at the faculty members and students, you see that both are incredibly rich resources with which to build. I believe very strongly in finding a way for the department and the students to connect with outside agencies. Outside funding is important because it serves as an automatic endorsement of your program. Funding makes things possible. It gets out the message about the possibilities that education provides. We are grateful to the French government for their support.”

Donato sees the program as a way to peer into the university’s future. “This program, as much as any other on campus, helps to prepare our students for life in the 21st century,” she said. “It provides tools of access to economic, intellectual and cultural communities from which many students would otherwise be excluded. Our Spanish-speaking students already function in two communities so they are already ahead of the game. This program opens up a third community, one they can enter and adapt to more easily than students who speak only one language. We live and teach in a rapidly changing community of students; those students’ strengths should drive a portion of our curriculum. The Department of Romance, German, Russian Languages and Literatures is among the first to respond to the strengths of our Hispanic students by offering this new area of study.”