LINGUIST List 11.1527

Wed Jul 12 2000

Sum: Ling Grad Students as Foreign Lang Instructors

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Stan Dubinsky, Ling Grad Students as Foreign Lang Instructors

Message 1: Ling Grad Students as Foreign Lang Instructors

Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 13:23:34 -0400
From: Stan Dubinsky <>
Subject: Ling Grad Students as Foreign Lang Instructors

For Query: Linguist 11.1347


 Here is a summary of the responses that I received to my June 17 
query on "Ling Grad Students as Foreign Lang Instructors (Linguist List 
posting 11.1347). This message is divided into three parts: 1. a
repetition of the original query, 2. a compilation of the responses that I
received, and 3. the text of our proposal to our graduate school to
address this issue. 
 I received responses from people who reported on the situation at the
following universities:

Indiana University (from David Levy)
Michigan State University (from Dennis Preston)
Purdue University (from Ken Johnson)
State University of New York, Buffalo (from Barbara Avila-Shah)
University of California, San Diego (from Paul Chapin, Nancy Frishberg,
and Todd O'Bryan)
University of Helsinki (from Deborah Kela Ruuskanen)
University of Minnesota (from Carol Klee and Nancy Stenson)
University of Missouri, Columbia (from Louanna Furbee)
University of Texas, Austin (from Nick Sobin)
 These are compiled below, by institution. I have appended below 
this the text of our formal proposal.

 Stan Dubinsky
 Director, Linguistics Program
 University of South Carolina

Part I. Original Query
I direct this query primarily to colleagues in U.S. institutions. Our 
accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools,
requires that a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) must have at least 18
graduate credit hours in a field in order to be the instructor of record
in that field. Thus, a GTA teaching a section of first year history must
have 18+ graduate hours in history. In the case of foreign language
instruction, this means that a GTA teaching first year Spanish must have
18+ graduate hours in Spanish courses (typically literature). I would
like to make the case that a student who has (1) 18+ hours in Linguistics,
and (2) native or near-native fluency in a language should be allowed to
teach that language.

My questions:
1. Are linguistics graduate students in your school allowed to teach
foreign languages as the instructor of record (that is, having full
responsibility for the course including grading)?
2. If so, what standards must they meet before they are allowed to have
their own class?

Part II. Responses
Indiana University:
 At Indiana University--Bloomington, where I have just completed two
years as an AI (Associate Instructor) in the Department of French and
Italian, all students who desire to teach classes, regardless of 
specialization (linguistics, literature or MAFI (MA in French Instruction), 
are eligible to teach. We are obligated to go through Orientation, as well as
take two semesters of practicum and methodology courses. A mitigating
factor in the decision as to who teaches which introductory courses is
that the number of AIs from each of the three specializations is based on
the number of students in each of the specializations. In other words, if
there are 20 linguistics students and 20 literature students in the
department, then there must be an equal number of AIs from each 
specialization teaching in any given scholastic year, irrespective of how many 
students from each specialization have applied for the available slots.
 It has been my experience, having discussed the benefits and
disadvantages of having an AI with a linguistics or literature background
with other AIs and with students, that linguistics students are more
sympathetic to the difficulties of learning a foreign language. There is
the danger that we get caught up in the "science" behind the language, 
instead of just teaching the language "as is" for communication, the goal
of our program, but an effective AI with a linguistics background knows
when to say "because that's the way it is" and when to delve into a more
detailed account of "why". Literature-based AIs often complain that they
can't say why the language works the way it does (when asked this
persistent question by students), simply because they don't have the
linguistic knowledge necessary to answer this sort of question, and
students sometimes feel that the AI is incompetent. On the other hand,
linguistics-based AIs must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of
literature, philosophy, culture and other traditionally "literary"
subjects of the language, so answering questions about these subjects is
generally not a problem, at least at the stages of language learning that
we teach.
 As far as our obligations as an AI, we do practically everything,
including writing lesson plans, writing exams and grading, in addition to
standing in front of the classroom.
 David Levy

Purdue University:
 Purdue does not have the same restriction on number of graduate hours
needed (i.e. a first semester M.A. gets to teach, as was the case when I
was at the Univ. of Maryland) so perhaps this doesn't really apply. But
we have frequently called on native speakers who were in other schools
(business, engineering, sciences) and who perhaps required some additional
help on getting an idea of how things work in an American University
classroom. Everyone from instructor level down goes through the same 1
week intensive training at the beginning of the year, regardless of how
much they have taught or studied the language, because the coordinator
wants to be sure everyone is up to speed on methodology.
 In the end, for us, language ability becomes the issue. I've seen a
number of people come in who were excellent teachers even though their
studies at the graduate level were not in foreign languages. I think the
only reason that our department would refuse to give a teaching assignment
to a linguist with a good command of the language would be if there were
sufficient numbers of grad students already in the department to handle
the teaching load, especially since graduate TAs get a salary and tuition
remission and that gets counted into our budget. Then again, our program
is set up so that a grad student in foreign languages specializes either
in literature or linguistics, so we actually have linguists in the
department specializing in a particular language (myself included).
 Ken Johnson

Michigan State University:
Nearly all our Asian and African language courses are taught by Linguistics
 Graduate students, most (nearly all) of whom have no graduate courses in
the languages they teach (and not all are native speakers, although, of
course, they are fluent).
 Dennis R. Preston

State University of New York, Buffalo:
 In our department, Dept of Modern Languages and Literatures, we have 
a PhD program in Spanish Linguistics and two in Literature (Spanish
American and Spanish). Our graduate students will teach pre-major and a
few lower division courses for majors with full responsibility in terms of
course preparation and teaching. In order to do so these are the
following criteria we follow:
 1. Must have at least a BA in Spanish with no less than a 3.5 average
in the major specialization.
 2. Must be proficient in the language, for this effect we interview
our prospective graduate students over the phone or in person if they are
 3. Occasionally we have native speakers of Spanish with a BA in
other areas. If their GPA is good, the admissions committee conducts an
interview with the student. If the committee feels that the student is
serious about his/her interest in pursuing a graduate degree in Spanish
and about teaching Spanish, they are accepted provisionally. After one
semester, their teaching and academic performance is evaluated and a
decision is made whether to admit the student as a full time grad student.
 4. All incoming instructors, with or without previous teaching
experience, will have a one week intensive training session followed by
one year of weekly meetings in which linguistic and pedagogical issues are
discussed with the language director (ME!) who is a linguist. They are
observed each semester by the language director and at least another
faculty member. If their teaching as well as academic performance is
good, they are renewed for the following year. They will all start
teaching an elementary level Spanish class. Based on the evaluations
performed, students are allowed to teach intermediate or intermediate high
level courses.
 5. In SUNY at Buffalo, linguistics is a separate department.
Occasionally, we have either native Spanish speakers or Anglo students
with advanced levels in Spanish, who are allowed to teach in our program.
After a meeting, if they are accepted they go through the same process
described in 4.
 In 6 years that I have been doing this, I can say that we have had
only 2 instructors who were not up to the standards that our program
expects. It was not based on language skills but in teaching philosophies
and work ethics.
 Occasionally we have a 300 level Spanish course opened for those
grad students who are close to finishing their dissertation. The
selection is done on a 'competition' basis. The student is chosen based
on his/her teaching performance record and language skills.
 Barbara Avila-Shah

University of California, San Diego:
 UCSD has always run its foreign language instruction program on the
model you are promoting, so you might get some useful information and
advice from Leonard Newmark, who founded the program, or Sanford Schane,
who is running it now.
 Paul Chapin

 When that department was established in the late 1960s, the Basic
Language Program (required undergrad language study) used native speaker
grad students for oral/aural instruction and linguistics students for
reading and grammar instruction. Leonard Newmark cleverly built the
program this way to insure good instruction and good grad student support.
 There was also a component run by grad students to supervise independent
study in languages other than the 4 classroom languages (French, Spanish,
German and Russian in those days). The Language Lab was set up for work 
in about 4-6 dozen other languages, and more senior grad students met with
independent study folks for evaluation, review etc. at least twice per
 Nancy Frishberg

 We at UC-San Diego get around the problem by having the instructor of
record be a professor, but having all of the teaching done by TAs. The
grading is fairly standardized across all sections and TAs are trained
about how to grade things like interviews and such for conversation
classes. We also have coordinators who keep different sections on target
and make sure that students receive about the same material since their
final will be the same.
 Todd O'Bryan

University of Helsinki:
 The common practice in Scandinavia is to have Linguistics grad 
students with an MA or MS teach FL if as you said they have native or
near-native proficiency. They are responsible entirely for the class.
Sometimes they also teach things like the freshman Intro to Linguistics or
History of the English Language. I imagine the MA or MS corresponds quite
closely to the 18+ hours of graduate credit you mentioned (it only takes 3
years to get a BA in most Scandinavian universities IF the student studies
full time, which most of them don't, and the MA is designed to be finished
in 3 terms).
 Deborah D. Kela Ruuskanen 

University of Minnesota::
 At the University of Minnesota, graduate students from outside the
Department of Spanish and Portuguese who have native or near-native
fluency in Spanish and are, preferably, in a related field (e.g., Second
Languages and Cultures in the College of Education, ESL, linguistics,
comparative literature) are often given teaching assistantships in the
department. They must participate in a 8-day orientation program before
classes begin and take a graduate course on the Teaching of College-level
Spanish the first semester they teach.
 Carol A. Klee

 In response to your Linguist query, grad students at the University
of Minnesota are permitted to be instructors of record in language
courses, in most programs from their first year of graduate study. They
are generally appointed at 50%. This applies to the programs large enough
to have TA lines, namely French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese.
Other languages are taught by faculty or teaching specialists hired
specifically for that purpose. In ESL, students cannot teach until they
have completed a year of coursework, including a course in ESL methods and
a practicum involving extensive student teaching and observation.
 Nancy Stenson

University of Texas, Austin:
 A response to you Linguist query: This is ancient history, but when I
was a linguistics graduate student at Texas, the English Department there
hired me regularly to teach ESL. Seems very much in the same ball park as
what you are proposing, and I'll bet there are lots of instances of that
at least.
 Nick Sobin

University of Missouri, Columbia:
 Are linguistics graduate students in your school allowed to teach
foreign languages as the instructor of record (that is, having full
responsibility for the course including grading)?
 Louanna Furbee

Part III. Our Proposal
Proposal regarding the Application of SACS Requirements to Linguistics and
Literature Graduate Students

Proposal to the Graduate School by:
Stanley Dubinsky (Director, Linguistics Program),
William Edmiston (Chair, Department of French & Classics),
Allen Miller (Director, Comparative Literature Program),
Robert Newman (Chair, Department of English Language & Literature), and
Margit Resch (Chair, Department of Germanic, Slavic, & East Asian
Languages & Literatures)

July 11, 2000

Background: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
requires that a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) must have at least 18
graduate credit hours "in their teaching discipline" in order to be the
instructor of record in that discipline (see section 4.8.4). Thus, a GTA
teaching a section of first year history must have 18+ graduate hours in
history. In the case of foreign language instruction, this means that a
GTA teaching first year Spanish must have 18+ graduate hours in Spanish
(SPAN) courses (typically literature). 

Proposal: The chairs and directors of the above-mentioned programs and
departments in the College of Liberal Arts propose that a student who has
native fluency in a given language, who has 18+ graduate credit hours of
course work in a related discipline (such as linguistics and/or literature)
, who meets Graduate School and departmental training requirements, and
whose credentials are approved by the department in question, should be
allowed to teach undergraduate courses in that language.

Justification: A student who takes 18+ graduate credits in Spanish
literature (for example) is acquiring two key skills that will make that
student a competent teacher of Spanish language: (1) knowledge of and
practice in textual analysis (generally), and (2) competence in the
Spanish language. Taking these two criteria for teaching competence as
separate, we contend that a native speaker of Spanish already possesses
the second skill by virtue of being a native speaker of the language. In
fact, a native speaker's proficiency in a foreign language is bound to 
surpass that of nearly any graduate student who is studying the same
language. It is further our contention that training in linguistics
and/or literature provides a graduate student with the requisite training
in the first area. That is, graduate study in linguistics provides a
student with a general knowledge of and practice in linguistic structure
and analysis, and graduate study in literature provides a student with a
general knowledge of and practice in textual analysis. Taken together,
native fluency in language X coupled with sufficient graduate study in 
linguistics and/or literature should be more than adequate to insure
quality of language instruction in keeping with the SACS accreditation

Ramifications: If this proposal were adopted, it would allow for the
following scenarios: (i) graduate students in the Linguistics and
Comparative Literature Programs would be able to teach basic language
courses in their native language (e.g., a Linguistics Graduate student
from Panama would be allowed, subject to Spanish Department approval and
training, to teach first-year Spanish courses), (ii) graduate exchange
students from other countries, who have 18+ graduate credit hours in
literary studies, would be allowed to teach their native language (e.g., a
graduate exchange student from France who studies English Literature would
be allowed, subject to French Department approval and training, to teach
first year French).
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