Lynn Palermo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of French
It’s an exciting time to be teaching languages at Susquehanna. The Central Curriculum now requires both a Global Opportunity (GO) study experience and third-semester proficiency level in another language. Both those requirements undercut the prevailing perception—which hasn’t been true for decades—that language study begins and ends with grammar.
That additional third semester represents a linguistic threshold for being able to discuss and read about cultural questions in the target language. For example, in the third-semester French class (French 201) we study questions relating to immigration. Students read an account of an undocumented flower merchant hassled by police during the Algerian War, watch films and interview an immigrant or someone from an immigrant family and write in French about that experience. Using newspapers and other source materials, students also play teachers, shopkeepers and politicians in a debate on a current issue—for example, France’s recent expulsion of Roma people.
Our popular annual French play staged by the advanced conversation and phonetics class also explores language and culture through role playing. In just 11 weeks the students write the play, make costumes, paint the backdrop and direct, rehearse and perform it—all in French. Speaking in French while projecting their voices in a public forum is a huge accomplishment.
I believe that fluency isn’t so much exhaustive knowledge of a language as it is being able to communicate what you want without running to the dictionary. We often see that students have developed this skill while studying abroad. As a result, they come home much more comfortable and engaged in the classroom. I understand that. France was the first foreign country I ever visited, when I was 11. Since then I have lived in France for more than five years studying, teaching English, researching archives, picking grapes and working on a sheep and chicken farm. During my last sabbatical I was a stone-cutting apprentice helping restore a 14th-century castle near Bordeaux. I am developing a GO program based on this experience.
I don’t think there’s much more valuable in life than being able to understand and access the minds and multiple perspectives of other human beings. Language is the tool that gives us access and insight to those perspectives—while also helping us reflect on our own language.
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