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New Language Center director appointed
STANFORD -- Elizabeth Bernhardt, professor of foreign and second language education at Ohio State University, has been appointed director of Stanford's new Center for Language Instruction. The appointment was announced July 24 by John Etchemendy, associate dean for the humanities.
Bernhardt, who has a doctorate in second languages and cultures education from the University of Minnesota and has taught at Ohio State for nine years, is a nationally recognized specialist in second language acquisition.
"She has impeccable research credentials," said Etchemendy in announcing Bernhardt's appointment. "She has published two books and more than 40 articles in the 10 years since she got her Ph.D. Her dissertation won an award from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and her first book [Reading Development in a Second Language: Theoretical, Research and Classroom Perspectives] won a prize for being the best contribution to research in foreign language teaching from the Modern Language Association.
"She's quite an impressive person," Etchemendy added, "and incredibly energetic."
Bernhardt had a quick laugh at that characterization.
"I guess I always have been one of those seven-days- a-week people," she said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Ohio. "And I don't anticipate that changing."
Bernhardt was chosen from a final list of six candidates, each of whom visited Stanford to give talks on their research, language pedagogy and vision for the new Language Center.
"I was very impressed with her ability to earn the respect, immediately, of both researchers in literature and the language instructors in the departments," Etchemendy said.
The new Language Center, which will be housed in Building 30 when renovations are completed in summer 1996, is expected to break new ground in academic research and services. Currently there are only a handful of language centers at major American universities, and those that do exist are primarily resource centers where language instructors can go to use computers, make recordings and borrow equipment.
But the new center at Stanford -- and its director -- are expected to respond to far broader concerns. Bernhardt not only will oversee all foreign language instruction but also will help to develop computer-based instructional materials and coordinate pedagogical research and training.
After she arrives in September, Bernhardt will have an office in the German Studies Department, where she is billeted, until she moves to her permanent quarters in the Language Center. Fall quarter 1996 will see implementation of the new foreign language requirement, whereby incoming freshmen have to demonstrate proficiency that is equivalent to one year of language instruction at Stanford. Designing the placement tests will be Bernhardt's top priority when she arrives.
"The challenge at Stanford is to ensure that we suitably meet the new language requirement, given the enormous diversity of languages taught," Bernhardt said. "My vision in placement testing is that no test should be administered simply to get a score and to put a student someplace. We need tests that provide students with feedback, not only about what courses they should go into but about where they are on the language development continuum."
Etchemendy said recent studies have confirmed the overall success of language instruction at Stanford, noting that in some programs here students acquire a higher proficiency in a shorter amount of time than those who have attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.
"Some of that [success], of course, has to do with the quality of our students," Etchemendy said. "But it also has to do with the quality of our programs. What we want the Language Center to do is try to guarantee that all of our programs are of a uniformly high quality, so that Stanford is providing to students the best language instruction in the U.S. higher education system.
"I think what we're doing here is really important, and people all across the country are watching what Stanford is doing."
How does that responsibility sit with Bernhardt?
"What can I say? It's terribly exciting and terribly daunting."
During the past year, Bernhardt said, "the e-mail networks have been alive with news about what's going on at Stanford. At first there were questions about who the director would be, and now there are questions about what will actually happen.
"Stanford made a very bold move in developing a center, and when it becomes a success -- and I don't say 'if' it becomes a success -- then other universities will look to us for leadership about what we've managed to accomplish.
"The fact that Stanford, as the international university that it is, made a real commitment to language teaching by putting substantial resources behind the center has made a statement both internationally and nationally, and that's why there's real interest."
Another top priority for Bernhardt will be developing interdisciplinary ties between the Language Center and the six departments -- French and Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, German Studies, Asian Languages, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and Comparative Literature -- that constitute the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages that recently completed its first year. She will be one of nine members of the executive committee that oversees the new division.
Bernhardt also anticipates convening an advisory committee for the new Language Center, to be composed of lecturers, graduate students, undergraduates and students who have studied abroad. "We really need to hear from all the various language constituencies on campus," she added.
Bernhardt will be teaching German I and II in winter and spring quarters, and she says the "high point" of her visit to Stanford this spring was the morning she spent sitting in on a French language class.
"It was the only contact I had with undergraduate students, and I got to see them working with technology that I thought was very creative," she says of her visit to John Barson's class.
"Language teaching was and is the real excitement of the job," she added. "And it seems to me that Stanford has said, 'Look, we cannot be an international university with international impact without having our students be literate in languages and cultures.'"
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