By Edwige Simon, PhD, Online Learning and Instructional Technology Director at the International Center for Language Studies, Washington DC.
In our increasingly globalized, yet deeply fractured world, the need to communicate effectively across cultures and specific contexts has never been more crucial. In Teaching World Languages for Specific Purposes, Ruggiero presents World Languages for Specific Purposes (WLSP) courses and programs as an effective tool to support successful business endeavors, but also to better connect communities, and ultimately serve as a vehicle for social change.
Ruggiero draws on her ten years of experience in the field to provide a thoughtful and practical guide to designing WLSP courses and curricula. Her goal is to help move WLSP from the margins to the core of the WL curricula, empower language educators to develop their own courses and curricula, and enrich the practice of those already active in the field.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, which are themselves organized into three sections. The book includes a generous selection of additional resources as appendices, including sample syllabi, sample lesson plans, activities, assignments, and assessments.
Section 1 (chapters 1 to 3): Definitions and Introduction to the Field
Chapter 1 provides key definitions and introduces the field of WLSP as pluridisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Ruggiero traces the origins of the field as starting in the 1950s and follows its evolution from focusing on business purposes to expanding to other contexts such as health care or law enforcement. The chapter highlights how WLSP programs draw from various student-centered pedagogical approaches and often have practical elements built into them, such as a service-learning component or an internship.
In chapter 2, the author lists the benefits of incorporating WLSP in the language curricula, which allows students to bridge the classroom and the real world, increases student motivation to pursue their language learning journey, opens career opportunities, and increases community engagement. Although still living on the margins of WL curricula, WLSP occupies a growing place in higher education, as evidenced by the increasing number of publications, courses, and programs available for students. The author foresees the development of WLSP Masters and Ph.D. programs as both a logical and necessary next step to help bring to life the vision of the Modern Language Association and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language.
In chapter 3, the author discusses teacher and student readiness and the importance of taking advantage of on-campus resources when developing WLSP courses and programs. She lists interest and motivation for teaching or taking a WLSP class as critical readiness factors. Teachers interested in developing and teaching a WLSP course are encouraged to assess and leverage their prior experiences, knowledge, and skills. They are also advised to explore the classroom (students’ prior knowledge), campus (colleagues, research, and resource centers), and community resources (to establish partnerships and create opportunities for students to make real-world connections).
Section 2 (chapter 4 to 7): Curriculum Development
In chapter 4, the author focuses on curriculum development, including learning objectives, syllabi, lesson plans, assignments, and assessments. Whether integrating a WLSP component into an existing course or creating a WLSP course from scratch, Ruggiero advises educators to incorporate new and innovative practices in their design. Designing a WLSP curriculum is similar to designing a regular language course, and there should be alignment between the various course components. WLSP courses usually emphasize language and intercultural competence objectives and how they intersect in the context at hand. WLSP lends itself to a wide range of assignments and assessments. The author strongly recommends having reflection components and tasks that allow for student choice and practical use of what students have learned in class.She advocates for the use of project- or problem-based assessments evaluated through rubrics over quizzes and tests.
Chapter 5 is dedicated to Community Service Learning (CSL) which is presented as a way for students to make real-world connections. For this to happen, educators must go out in the community and network, meet people, volunteer, and get a sense of what is needed and how it connects these needs back to their course objectives. The author points to the importance of creating mutually beneficial partnerships. She recognizes the challenge of finding a partner and proposes solutions such as expanding the area to the nearest city, considering virtual partnerships, or broadening one’s objectives and focusing on intercultural competence rather than language acquisition.
In chapter 6, the author discusses two types of CSL projects a teacher might integrate into a WLSP course. The first type usually takes the form of an internship where students take on roles determined by partner organizations. In the second project, characterized as more fulfilling but more labor-intensive, the teacher, students, and organization identify new needs and ways in which they can help meet them. From a project design standpoint, the author recommends allowing class time to work and reflect on the project, which will help ensure better project integration into the curriculum. Finally, the author recommends using appropriate assessment strategies such as quizzes and tests, reflections, and observations.
Chapter 7 addresses how to integrate WLSP into regular language courses, a less daunting endeavor than creating a WLSP course from scratch. Ruggiero recommends integrating LSP content throughout the WL curriculum, including advanced-level courses. When adding WLSP content to a course, she recommends ensuring proper alignment between the learning objectives, the activities, and the assessments to allow the WLSP component to be an integral part of the lesson plan. WLSP content can be integrated into one lesson, a unit, or weaved into an entire course. The author notes that many traditional classroom activities can work well when teaching WLSP content, as long as the professional content is supported through practical activities such as reflections, roleplays, or group discussions. Ruggiero suggests using reflections, and writing assignments with clear rubrics to effectively measure learning.
Section 3 (chapter 8-11): Teaching Strategies, Models, and Exercises
In chapter 8, the author turns her attention to translating and interpreting contexts. She recommends paying attention to the language spoken by the populations students are likely to serve when designing lessons. Therefore, it is important to consider language variations, non-verbal communication, and culture, and nurture a high level of cultural sensitivity instead of just focusing on language. She offers a wide range of interpretation exercises that range from highly scaffolded and scripted ones to more spontaneous ones (depending on the level of the students), always followed by debriefing sessions.
Chapter 9 discusses how to integrate culture into the teaching of WLSP. The author reminds us of the indissociable nature of language and culture and provides several examples that combine WLSP topics and correlated culture themes. Culture can be brought in using stories, digital art, song, and film. Students can reflect on their learning using metacognitive activities and group discussions.
In chapter 10, the author covers the topic of Heritage Learners, whose background knowledge and proficiency can be validated and leveraged when designing a WLSP course. Ruggiero proposes several activities exemplifying how to work with both heritage and nonheritage students together, adapting strategies presented in other chapters (roleplay, discussion, etc.), and designing exercises that encourage heritage learners to see themselves as potential professionals and role models, agents of change in the field at hand (doctors, lawyers, etc.) and in their communities.
In the last chapter, the author turns her attention to the role of technology in WLSP and CSL, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disaster situations. The pandemic has allowed educators to rethink their practices and consider new ones. There is limited research on conducting WLSP courses at a distance. While it is possible, the author reminds us that it is not about the technology but rather the design behind the courses that will determine effectiveness.
The author concludes with a reflection on the crucial role WLSP can play in bridging communities and advocates for bringing WLSP from the margins to the center of the World Language agenda not only by integrating WLSP content into regular language courses but also by creating new graduate-level programs.
Teaching World Languages for Specific Purposes: A Practical Guide is an outstanding resource for any educators, regardless of their prior experience and knowledge of the topic. It provides valuable insight into the relevance of the field in the world language curricula and beyond while providing concrete ideas and examples on how to get started.