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New beginnings

Who We Are, What We Do: Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Teaching and Learning

By Janet Harron

There is a new beginning for languages in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The newly minted Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures will replace the two separate departments of French and Spanish and German and Russian. The change signals a new direction and a new way of doing things.

‘Cultural literacy’

“I am so pleased that faculty and staff from French, Spanish, German and Russian are joining forces to raise the profile of languages at Memorial University,” said Dr. Lynne Phillips, dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Learning another language is such a crucial part of cultural literacy, and I congratulate my colleagues for having the foresight to develop this amalgamated unit to meet students’ needs.”

Dr. John Buffinga, middle of front row, on a recent trip to Heidelberg with Memorial students
Dr. John Buffinga, middle of front row, on a recent trip to Heidelberg, Germany, with Memorial students.

According to co-head Dr. John Buffinga, the new department hopes to develop programs that cross both national boundaries and disciplines.

He asks, for example, what do various national literatures and cinemas say about the environment, traumatic histories such as the Holocaust or current issues such as migration?

“All sorts of possibilities open up when we begin to think outside of our own disciplines, which are often quite narrow, and focus on a broader, more interdisciplinary context.”

Potential collaborations

Acting head Dr. Philippe Basabose points out other benefits.

“The synergy that will develop from collaboration between faculty members with diverse teaching and research areas will hopefully result in the development of new courses and research opportunities.”

In addition to the four core languages, the department also offers courses in Irish, Italian and Japanese.

Dr. Anne Thareau, who is from rural France, laughingly refers to the department as a kind of “mini United Nations.” Faculty members are from places as diverse as Rwanda (Dr. Basabose), Columbia (Dr. Myriam Osorio), New Zealand (Dr. Virginia Harger-Grinling), the Netherlands (Dr. Buffinga), Togo in West Africa (Dr. Kodjo Attikpoé), South Korea (Dr. Halia Koo) and Morocco (Dr. Messod Salama).

Who We Are, What We Do

Dr. Thareau, Dr. Stuart Durrant and Dr. Myriam Osorio appear alongside students Leanne Scott (French), Michael Fleet (German), Jon Mankow (Russian) and Talia Padawer (Spanish) in the four Who We Are, What We Do: Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures videos. The videos are the final installments in a series produced by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and created by multihyphenate writer/videographer/rapper/producer and recent Memorial graduate Timo Sargent.


Student testimonials

French student Leanne Scott’s favourite class “by far” was Dr. Thareau’s Rhetoric and Public Speaking.

“This course gave me the chance to put all the written grammar we spend so much time learning to use in a public speaking context,” said Ms. Scott, who is currently enrolled in an online master’s program at Carleton University in philanthropy and non-profit leadership and is planning an imminent move to Montreal.

“Having studied French, I am at a great advantage now, moving to a francophone province. Learning a second language also opens your mind to a whole new way of seeing and expressing things.”

Michael Fleet came to German through his interest in international relations. He was so taken by the range of his courses and the “fantastic” faculty that German became his second major, along with political science.

“I learned the language and also German cultural history and how it has affected the world of today,” said Mr. Fleet, who is about to begin an MA in global governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo. “From learning of the origins of Protestantism and Martin Luther to Kant, the German Romantic era and the evolution of politics in modern-day Germany, the courses cover a fantastic range.”

“An increasing global world understands the importance of language and how it is integral to a person’s, a region’s and a nation’s identity.” –Dr. John Buffinga

Dr. Buffinga maintains that one of the biggest misconceptions about studying languages is that it is no longer necessary in a world that is becoming increasingly global.

“In fact, the opposite is true: an increasing global world understands the importance of language and how it is integral to a person’s, a region’s and a nation’s identity,” he says. “Today’s major employers understand this as well. The private and public sector, and national and international organizations view knowledge of languages and the cultural awareness that goes along with it as a feature that enhances the value of a potential employee.”

New name, same mandate

The title Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures also clarifies a common misconception that the teaching of language is the sole aspect of the department’s mandate.

“We chose this long name for our new department because the study of literatures and cultures is very much a part of what we do,” said Dr. Thareau.

For more information, please see the degree maps for French, German, Russian and Spanish, visit the department’s new website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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