St. Olaf’s Curriculum Committee recently decided to discontinue the Alternative Language Study Option (ALSO) program at the end of this academic year. ALSO is currently in the fifth and final year of its pilot period and offers students the opportunity to learn Arabic, Korean and Italian, languages not currently available in the regular curriculum.
“I think there was a a lot of regret in the faculty about this program being terminated,” Head of the Curriculum Committee Professor Mary Trull said. “But it also seemed clear that it wasn’t accomplishing the goals that it had set out to accomplish as well as we had hoped.”
The main reason for the program’s cancellation was the lack of student interest combined with the amount of resources it took to run. The program required hiring new Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTAs) every year, whereas the languages offered in the regular curriculum have consistent faculty.
“It’s just not as good a use of our resources as committing to faculty members who are trained in their field and are going to develop courses that are going to be offered for more than a year,” Trull said.
Interest from students varied widely, from a high of 29 students one semester to a low of seven in another.
Participation in the ALSO program was contingent on having already fulfilled the foreign language general education (FOL GE) requirement, and due to the program’s less traditional method it also required the students to commit to attending language tables and other informal conversation spaces.
“It also wasn’t an official part of the FOL GE program. You couldn’t fulfill that GE credit because it wasn’t being taught in the same way as our other foreign languages,” Trull said. “It didn’t have the same role in the curriculum and that meant it was less attractive to students.”
This is not to say that students will have no options for learning an alternative language in the future. While the ALSO program didn’t work out as planned, new ideas are already on the table.
“Some of the possibilities to be explored are collaborating with Carleton and using online resources and off-campus immersion programs,” Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary and General Studies Dana Gross said.
Additionally, the World Languages Center will continue to offer materials, native speaker tutors and online resources for any student to use.
“I will add that [Director of World Language Center] Renata Debska-McWilliams, [IOS Director] Jodi Malmgren and I are getting ready to announce a non-credit pilot language program, tentatively entitled Guided Independent Language Enrichment. This program is primarily intended to support students studying off-campus for a semester,” Gross said.
The Guided Independent Language Enrichment program would offer weekly one-hour enrichment sessions for students participating in the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, the Budapest semester, programs in Florence and Milan and Biology in South India.
“I think the ALSO program needs a little bit of refinement,” Arabic FLTA Mohsine Jebbour said. “To be honest, I’d really like to make the Arabic language not alternative unless necessary because it is spoken in more than ten countries. With this language you can have access to a rich culture. You can communicate with many different people coming from different cultures.”
“Arabic language study is important for the Middle East Studies program. Faculty in that program will be part of a study group that I plan to convene next semester,” Gross said.
While the ALSO program had the advantage of providing a small class size and attracting a dedicated group of students, it wasn’t a sustainable solution for providing alternative language options.