A Field in Crisis: What Future for Language Study in the United States?

Keynote address by Stéphane Charitos, Columbia University, for the February 28 Symposium, Reimagining the Future of Postsecondary Language Education.

Abstract: In this presentation I will reflect on the current situation of language education at the post-secondary level in the United States. The latest numbers made available by the Modern Language Association in their latest survey of enrollments in the field suggest quite clearly, despite the positive spin the MLA tries to put on them, that the decline we are experiencing nationwide in language enrollments is not a short-term fluke but rather the beginning of a sustained, negative trend that will have to be dealt with in the coming years if we are to remain relevant at the institutional level.

I will begin by sharing data that summarizes and contextualizes the current situation. I will then briefly discuss a number of issues which in my opinion directly affect language education in the US and contribute to this generalized lack of interest in languages other than English. Finally, I will sketch out a potential approach that could help uphold the visibility and importance of language study at the institutional level and could serve as a check to this alarming downward drift.

Bio: Stéphane Charitos is Director of the Language Resource Center at Columbia University. He earned a B.Sc. in Data Processing and Quantitative Analysis and an M.A in French from the University of Arkansas before completing a Ph.D. in French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has given papers and published in areas as diverse as 16th and 20th-century French and Francophone literature, Cultural and Film Studies, Modern Greek Studies, Critical Theory and on issues related to technology, globalization, and language education. He is the Principal Investigator on the Shared Course Initiative, a project funded by the Mellon Foundation to collaboratively teach less commonly taught languages between Columbia, Cornell and Yale. His current research and teaching interests include investigating how social and place-based pedagogies can help extent the language classroom and help students engage in authentic, transformative experiences.