OCAAT intensity fosters language learning
Devan Baty, associate professor of French
Learning a foreign language is a transformative experience. With each new word and expression, you see and experience the world in new ways. From the first day of French 101, you abandon your comfort zone. No longer a mere spectator or tourist, you become a direct participant in the global Francophone community by engaging with it on its own terms and in its own words.
The intensity of the block plan fosters a sense of community, which begins in the classroom. Students learn about each other and themselves while they are learning about French and Francophone culture. They not only study the form of the language, they also learn about the cultural contexts in which the language is spoken and lived. For example, a typical day's lesson in a language class under OCAAT includes a variety of activities, which build upon each other throughout the day. When learning about education, for example, students in Intermediate French begin by putting into practice new vocabulary and grammar to describe their own experiences at college. This is followed by a discussion of the differences between American and French educational systems and their impact on culture and national identity. Language students are most engaged when their learning is placed into a broader context. We bring that context to the classroom with culturally rich materials such as music, film, art, food, and literature.
The flexibility of OCAAT also allows me to take students off campus on short trips to neighboring towns to take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the world where French is spoken. I have taken students to visit an exhibition of Haitian art at the Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa; to attend a lecture in Iowa City by Angélique Kidjo, a United Nations spokeswoman for child rights in Africa; and to sample pains au chocolat at a traditional French café in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Croissant Du Jour. I have also hosted students at my home for a traditional dîner gastronomique with multiple courses and conversation in French.
Since we can't leave the Hilltop every day to discover the wider Francophone world, I invite French speakers to join our community as frequently as possible. For example, students in an advanced-level course on French and Francophone culture had the opportunity to learn about the difficulties of cultural integration from a group of Congolese immigrants who visited our class from their new home in Cedar Rapids. Other class visitors have included native French speakers from Togo, France, Québec, and Luxembourg.
OCAAT has also inspired me to lead off-campus courses in locations such as Montréal, Canada, Fez, Morocco, and Aix-en-Provence, France. In a month's time, students make great strides in their speaking and listening skills by living with host families and engaging with local communities in French. Their cultural proficiency improves even more as they are forced to navigate the unspoken codes and customs of the society in which they are placed.
In the words of one of my French students: "Vive l'OCAAT!"