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Modern languages department to offer a new master’s degree

Credit: Jesse Kummer/Personnel Manager Credit: Jesse Kummer/Personnel Manager

The department of modern languages announced a new master’s degree in applied second language acquisition. As one of only two graduate degrees offered by the department of modern languages, according to its website, the master’s in applied second language acquisition (MA in applied SLA) “draws on strengths of the department of modern languages at Carnegie Mellon.”

The year-long program is oriented towards preparing students for careers teaching second languages. According to the website, the program is aimed towards both U.S. and international students and highlights “second-language acquisition, cultural studies, pedagogy, and technology-enhanced learning.” The MA in applied SLA is a professionally oriented degree, which will allow graduates to pursue employment at the secondary or university level. Candidates should intend to teach one of the five languages that the program offers: English as a second language, French, German, Chinese, or Japanese.

According to Christopher Jones, the director of the MA in applied SLA program, Carnegie Mellon’s program distinguishes itself by requiring “greater language proficiency at the beginning of our degree than the MAT [master’s of art in teaching] programs and certifying bodies require at the end.”

The curriculum emphasizes strength in language. The program of study shown on the modern languages website states that students whose language skills are not up to par are expected to take a summer immersion semester prior to the initial fall semester. Candidates who intend to teach in a second language are required to take an oral proficiency interview during the application process.
One goal of the new program is to stress, according to the website, “content courses” rather than the courses required for teaching certification, which tend to burden master’s of art in teaching programs.

“Perhaps its differentiating characteristic,” Jones claimed, “is the amount of mentoring students will receive.” Mentorship begins the first semester of the program and continues into the second semester. In the second semester, the students are placed with a regular faculty member, and they work in a course led by that faculty member. Students are also required to participate in classroom exercises. This includes observation of experienced teachers, short interventions in classroom instruction and primary responsibility for the planning and delivery of an extended period of undergraduate instruction. Since only five to 10 students are expected to be admitted to the MA in SLA program annually, these mentoring experiences are possible.

This, in essence, is the goal of the program. “It is hoped that the students will establish a reputation for linguistic and content excellence,” Jones said, “rather than the more common record of completion of formal requirement courses associated with the certification process.”

Carnegie Mellon seems to be the place to make that happen. Richie Stuver, a first-year in H&SS who is currently studying Japanese, said, “The modern languages program delves deeper than other supplemental language instruction by providing a means of exploring language through access and understanding of culture.”

The program was developed, in part, to include the strength of the faculty within the department of modern languages who specialize in areas not included in the Ph.D. program.

Specialties incorporated into the MA of applied SLA include cultural studies, language pedagogy, and technology-enhanced learning. “Based on the technological resources available at Carnegie Mellon, we should be well equipped to produce teachers who are innovative and progressive in the classroom,” said Andrea Pickel, a first-year in the Carnegie Institute of Technology who is also studying Chinese.
At this point, the success of the program remains to be seen. The first class of master’s in applied second language acquisition students will arrive in the fall of 2011. However, if the hopes of the department are anything to go on, the candidates will be well-prepared to tackle the challenges of the classroom.