Critical Languages Courses - Program Description
This program uses a self-instructional method for language learning. The major responsibility belongs to the student, who works with an Instructor who is a native speaker of the target language. Classes meet three hours (150 minutes) each week in small tutorials, usually 3 to 5 students.
The method used is loosely based on the one used by the Foreign Service Institute. It is effective because it requires active, committed learning by students. At the early stages of language acquisition, the most important thing is to practice, to overlearn material, to have accurate linguistic models, and to have appropriate, adequate materials. The Critical Languages Program has all of these features.
What do you learn in this program?
The focus of the self-instructional method is oral proficiency. While it is true that many of the languages we offer have writing manuals and it is expected that students make full use of them. These supplementary exercises are for the purpose of developing speaking and listening comprehension proficiency. This means extensive oral/aural practice. Students must listen to tapes or CDs and speak aloud, as well as attend practice sessions with the native speaker, in order to achieve the level of fluency appropriate for each level. Writing is very important, but when not accompanied by oral work, it is not sufficient to promote oral communication skills. The only exception is the Written Japanese course, which was added at the request of advanced students of Japanese and utilizes materials fully coordinated with the spoken component.
Why does this method work?
The acquisition of a second or third language is a complex process, yet people can do it all the time. Research shows that language learners must be active participants in the process. It may seem necessary to have the grammar explained at every step, but adult learners can obtain a good part of this information from well-designed texts. What everyone needs is accurate, controlled, and frequent feedback in response to their performance. Students in Critical Languages must come to class prepared to speak, meaning that they have read and listened to the material for several hours. Instructors use the target language exclusively, and consistently correct errors in the learners’ speech. Time is spent very efficiently because the groups are small, there is careful attention to linguistic performance, and guidance is personalized.
Why choose this method instead of the “traditional” classroom?
There is no single way to learn a language, just as there is no single type of learner. This program may not work for everyone, but it can work for almost anyone who truly wishes to learn a given language. An important factor is the motivation of the individual, because there is no policing of the class through exams or written assignments. This does not make the course easier or watered down; rather, it signifies that the student is responsible for his or her progress. Nonetheless, the weekly sessions are vital to learning, because the constant feedback aids in self-assessment. Essentially, this means that while one can speak of self-instruction, it is still necessary to work with a human being and a variety of materials if fluency is to be achieved. Multimedia can enhance the process, but cannot, as yet, replace the human component of language learning. At the same time, learning the rules of the grammar is fine, but without the appropriate techniques and quantity of practice, it does not translate into fluency.
Which levels are offered?
This depends on the type of language. In general, we do try to accommodate smaller groups at the higher levels, because there is a commitment to language study which we feel should be honored.
How is each course graded?
There are no grades throughout the semester. However, 15% of the final grade will be based on attendance, to be kept by the Instructor. During finals week a 30-minute oral examination is conducted by an outside examiner, and eighty-five percent of the final grade is based on the exam. A grade of Incomplete may be given only under extraordinary circumstances and in accordance with departmental and university policy.
By signing the enrollment form, students certify that they have read the program description and agree with the course format. If a student stops attending sessions or does not appear for the final exam, he or she will earn a failing grade, just as in other classes.
Semester schedule information
- Week 1: the course schedule is communicated to students
- Week 2: practice sessions begin
- Final 2 weeks: oral exams arranged
- Finals week: oral final
During preregistration and/or the add-drop period, students request permission by completing an enrollment form, filling out a questionnaire and leaving their schedule in 201 Little Hall. Permission is granted only when this information is received, because we need to have a way of contacting you, of making sure you are requesting enrollment for the appropriate level of a language and because we use the schedule information to arrange the schedule of classes. The practice session times are generally scheduled according to students’ and instructor’s availability, in a few cases they are scheduled ahead of time.
If you are not contacted by the Program Coordinator after you fill out your paperwork, you can assume that you have been granted permission to take the course at the level you indicated. Sessions meet three hours per week in three 50-minute or two 75-minutes classes. Prior to each session, students should master the material completely. Questions about grammar should not be asked during the sessions because this takes away from the time allotted to practice in the target language and because it can detract from fully preparing for oral sessions. Even though three hours may not seem like a lot of time, attendance at every practice session, is vital to your success in learning the language.
Preparation through self-study may average nine hours per week in addition to class time. The self-instructional approach is not a short-cut to learning a language and it does not make the course easier, but it does bring success.
How to register (NB: permission required!)
- Read program information in hard copy or electronic form.
- Go to 201 Little Hall and fill out an enrollment form, a questionnaire about your experience in the desired language, and information about your schedule.
- Please do this early on. If you fill out a form after scheduling has begun, no accommodation can be made for your course schedule.
- If you are not contacted by the program coordinator, you can assume that you are granted permission and the office will enroll you in the course you chose.
- Be aware that classes with fewer than three students will not run.
What about texts and other materials?
Please obtain textbooks under the VOX designators at the UMaine bookstore (207-581-1700). A few of the texts have audio materials bundled with them.
What or how much material is covered?
A Critical Language course should cover the same amount of material as in a traditional classroom. Sometimes it may cover more. Instructors are expected to maintain an appropriate speed and level of performance.
A final word about language learning in general
Learning a language is like learning to play a musical instrument or becoming a skilled athlete: in all of these activities, a learner must perform and prepare extensively beforehand. Imagine coming to a concert or a play without knowing the music or the lines! And no athlete gets to play in a sporting event without having gone to training sessions.
You must be an active participant in the process; do not expect the native speaker to do the talking for you. After all, s/he already knows the language and you need to acquire it. There really are no shortcuts or simple ways to be a successful language learner, yet everyone’s brain is wired for this. You need not have had experience prior to a beginner’s course – just have a clear goal of what you want to and can accomplish.
More information on these courses is coming soon, please check this page regularly or contact:
Critical Languages Program
264 Little Hall
University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469-5742
Last Updated October 2013