This is a blog about language instruction at the University of Florida. I want to write about the people who teach the elementary language courses at UF. We offer a remarkable variety of languages and a variety of remarkable people teach them, in classes ranging from tiny to overflowing. One reason running the UF language labs has never been boring for me–in nearly 20 years now–is these people, some of whom are here only for a few years, others, like me, for decades.
I myself got my BA, MA, and Ph.D. from the Romance Studies department at Cornell University. At Cornell, there was a Division of Modern Languages that handled elementary language teaching, and I was predisposed to feel, along with the Romance Studies faculty, that the basics of learning a language were just something one scrambled through in order to get to the real goal, which was reading 17th-century French drama in the original…. If you were one of the chosen who cared about 17th-century French drama, you would learn the language somehow; if not, well, presumably you had learned something…. I took courses from the Division of Modern Languages in French, German, and Italian, and all I recall is how unhappy the instructors were. The French teacher was a Frenchwoman who wanted to do chemistry research instead of lecturing on Gide; the Italian teacher was an Italian who was really interested in 19th-century French poetry; the German teacher, a German grad student who probably did plan to go on teaching German, thought the readers we used were silly. So I had no high opinion of language teaching at this level. A few years later, I ran into a friend who was teaching an elementary French course of which I had heard great things (this was when French in Action was a mimeographed booklet), I was surprised when she sighed and commented that teaching language required so much energy.
Now I know something about the energy, and I marvel at the excitement of language students who pass through the UF Language Learning Center, and of their teachers. I will try to capture a bit of it in this blog.