Stanford Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt to receive Distinguished Service Award for foreign language teaching


German Studies Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt
German Studies Professor Elizabeth Bernhardt

ELIZABETH BERNHARDT, a professor of German studies at Stanford and director of the Stanford Language Center, is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Service to the Profession Award from the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL).

The award honors eminent scholar-teachers who serve the foreign language teaching profession in the larger community. It is the highest honor a language professor can earn in the United States.

A preeminent researcher in second-language reading, Bernhardt is the author of research-based protocols for assessing reading comprehension.

Since 1995, Bernhardt has directed the Stanford Language Center, which the ADFL cited as “nationally emulated” program devoted to second-language teaching and learning.

Bernhardt, who leads national discussions on language-program governance, joins a select group of linguists who have previously won the award, including GUADALUPE VALDÉS, professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

“I was extremely touched to receive this award,” said Bernhardt. “ADFL is a great organization with members who care a lot about language learning. It was wonderful to receive this recognition, which is, in reality, a recognition of the wonderful work that all language teachers at Stanford do for their students.”

Bernhardt has been fascinated with language learning since she was young. “As a heritage speaker of German, I was struck at how different the German I was learning in school was from the German my grandparents spoke. Continuing German in high school and starting Spanish made me recognize other differences.” Bernhardt added that she learned “the most about teaching German from my Spanish professor, who was singularly focused on the proficiency of individual students.”

Bernhardt plans to continue to build and refine programs for Stanford language students so that they can enhance their proficiency.

“In partnership with the University Libraries, the Language Center is working on insuring that it can deliver online writing assessments, parallel to what is already done in speaking, conveniently for all students in the language programs,” Bernhardt said.

“We are also exploring digital solutions to advanced-level foreign language reading assessments. This latter project is in its developmental phase and is focused on learners of French and Spanish reading literary texts.”

The award will be presented at the Modern Language Association Convention this January in Chicago. In addition, a special session at the MLA Convention has been organized to honor Bernhardt and her work: “Second-Language Learning and Literacy: A Session in Honor of Elizabeth Bernhardt.”


—TANU WAKEFIELD, The Humanities at Stanford