Interview with Jean Bouchard, Director of the Modified Language Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Edwige: So Jean Bouchard, you are the Director of the Modified Language Program here at the University of Colorado Boulder. Can you tell us a little about your program, how it came about and what your role is?
Jean: Yes, I would be happy to! The Dean of students, over 25 years ago, noticed a population of students who was leaving the university having met all degree requirements, even with A’s and B’s, but had not received their diploma because of D’s and F’s in multiple attempts at foreign languages. So, there was a very obvious correlation and she, being faculty of the Communication Disorders and Speech Sciences department at the time, decided to take a deeper look into what was impacting these students’ ability to complete their foreign language requirement. That is how I first was introduced to the Modified Foreign Language Program, as research assistant to complete the diagnostic testing that we undertook at the time, to identify the issues that these students were struggling with. From that empirical data, we discovered a small population, but significant enough, of students who required a different teaching methodology. We had a Latin instructor at the time, in fact faculty in the Classics Department, Barbara Hill, who developed a Modified Language Program, which was our beta test.
Edwige: So you ran the Latin course and then you started adding other languages after that?
Jean: Yes, we added Spanish and Italian. For quite a few years, we ran all three of those sections.
Edwige: Now we are in 2016, how many levels and languages do you offer?
Jean: We offer the same three levels that meet the Baccalaureate degree requirement, which is the third level of proficiency at any language. Currently we offer Spanish, all three sections, Spring and Fall semesters, and we are finishing up a third semester in Italian. However, going forward we will only offer Spanish.
Edwige: How does the admission procedure work? How do students find you or how do you find your students?
Jean: That is a really good question, there are many avenues by which the students find us, as well as the way we find them. They often times are referred by an advisor after the student has explained that they had a terrible time in foreign language in high school and couldn’t complete the requirement there, and therefore they are concerned about completing it here and I usually receive those referrals early, which is always a good thing. I also receive referrals from parents, who are looking around on the website and happen to come across our program. I receive referrals from disability services, and sometimes even students themselves. In terms of our outreach, a couple of years ago, as a way to do our part in retention and graduation efforts at the University, I developed a statistical analysis program which allows me to look at all foreign languages taken and draw out students who have received either a W, D or F as red flags, so that I can look through to see if this student is someone who needs to fulfill their requirement first of all, and secondly, who looks like they are only struggling in foreign language, while doing fine in their other coursework, which would be indicative of that student who would really need the modified program in order to meet their degree requirement of the three semesters in foreign language.
Edwige: That is a great system. So what do your classes look like? How are they different from regular language courses?
Jean: Our courses are taught in a multisensory way, we offer lots of visual aids and as much tactile kinesthetic activity as possible. The goal being to stimulate as many of the senses, while the student is hearing and speaking the language, so that they can draw on their strength areas in the brain to anchor that information and also access that information. The classes are taught at a significantly slower pace initially. This is so we can help the students lay down a very solid foundation in their understanding of grammar and their understanding of the phonology of the new language. We find that giving them the structure to fall back on and also teaching them what they might not have already learned about their own language, English, can often times help them to understand how to put together and remember a foreign language.
Edwige: Who are your instructors? Do they receive a particular training? Do you train them? Is it challenging for you to find qualified instructors for those courses?
Jean: That’s a very good question. Barbara Hill, who developed our first modified Latin class, has been instrumental in training all of our instructors and faculty throughout the years. So I would have to say that it has been a work in progress passed down from one foreign language instructor to another. We provide our students with their materials, we don’t use a textbook because we have found textbooks to be visually over stimulating. We want our students to only focus on the salient features on what we are trying to teach them, what we want them to learn, in order for them to learn deeply, in order for them to be able to focus the attentions that they have on that information, which is going to allow them to build upon – add the more complicated aspects of grammar and certainly the vocabulary, as it continues to grow from semester to semester. So the classes are unique, the instructors are very unique. They are patient people, they are creative and have a willingness to meet each student at their individual level of learning and development. I think I said patient, but it is worth saying that again, they are patient and I can’t say enough about the outstanding qualities of every single instructor/teacher, that we have had in our modified programs.
Edwige: This is great to hear. So what is the relationship between the Modified Foreign Language Program and Disability Services? Do you cater to the same students?
Jean: We do cater to the same students, but the Modified Foreign Language Program caters to yet another population, that has not been identified throughout their school career. Disability Services has a mandate, I believe, to serve students with documented disabilities of any sort. The Modified Foreign Language Program, because we are not associated with Disability Services, we on the other hand, can identify students who have challenges in language learning, but who haven’t been picked up throughout their schooling, because of a very impressive ability to compensate for challenges in native language skills, with native language learning. So the importance of this is that we serve, the Modified Foreign Language Program serves, both students who have previous diagnoses and who have been determined to be a good fit for the Modified methodologies, but also we are able to serve those students who would otherwise fall through the cracks and not receive services at the University because they don’t have an official diagnosis. The Modified Foreign Language likes to talk about these challenges as learning differences, rather than learning disabilities.
Edwige: So how many Modified Foreign Language Programs are out there? How many universities have programs similar to yours?
Jean: There are really only a handful of other universities in the country that have Modified Foreign Language Programs. The majority of those have been built on our model. I think the reason for this is that to have a modified foreign language program, it requires a multidisciplinary effort. That isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish at a large institution.
Edwige: So what is next for your and for your program? Are you working on something new right now?
Jean: I am in fact. It relates to this question of availability of Modified Language classes. I often receive calls from other universities requesting information about our program, how did we put it together etc. Rarely does that get to go anywhere to another university. My goal for next Fall, in fact, is to open up our modified classes to students at other universities, so that they too may meet their foreign language requirement and obtain their degree from wherever they choose. Utilizing this unique methodology that the University of Colorado developed over 25 years ago and has successfully delivered to our students here.
Edwige: This is so great. Thank you so much Jean.
Jean: Thank you so much.