Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum

Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum (2005, Modern Language Association of America) by Janet Swaffer and Katherine Arens offers a vision of foreign language instruction that all students should use to evaluate a course on in whatever language they choose to study. While written for a scholarly audience, students who want to truly speak, read, write, and understand a foreign language would benefit from reading this book.

The objective of a foreign language course should not be rote learning of grammar rules and vocabulary but rather literacy that enables students to function in a society where a foreign language is spoken. (p. 2) To empower students with foreign language skills in more areas, there has been an influx of new media used in foreign language classrooms. Since the 1970s foreign language programs “have opened the door for expanded choices of what texts to read…The palette of offerings today now incorporates movies, websites, and popular writing along with high-culture literary words.” (p.30) Blogs have also been added to this variety of media. Interacting with these media allows teachers to focus on “production” (i.e. speaking and behavior) rather than on the regurgitation of memorized facts.

When you combine production with a variety of foreign language media from a given culture called “authentic materials,” it is easier to study contemporary society, different eras, and multicultural aspects of the language as well. (p.5) For example, French classes in high school traditionally focused on the language of France. In the foreign language instruction envisioned by Swaffer and Arens, students would study the language and culture of France, North Africa, Haiti, Quebec, and other francophone countries.

Swaffer and Arens further argue for the use of authentic materials early on as adult beginners can deal with intellectually challenging material. (p.140). They argue that grammar should be learned independently out of class (p.32); language is bigger than grammar rules. Classroom time should be used to learn to “manage cultural contexts” (p. 37) or how to behave in the foreign culture. Teachers become facilitators and resource people this scenario developed in Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum. This change in the language teaching method alone make this book an intriguing read for serious foreign language students.

Originally reviewed on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Review and More