The Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages recently selected the Trout Gallery at Dickinson College as the recipient of this year’s James W. Dodge Foreign Language Advocate Award.
The award recognizes the gallery for its innovative approach to language learning through a program that makes art the basis for conversation in students’ target languages.
Phillip Earenfight, gallery director, and Heather Flaherty, curator of education, say the idea works because it takes learning beyond the classroom.
“Often, someone will learn language by memorization, but we create programs that work with the collection and exhibitions that we have on display,” Earenfight said. “Students come to the Trout Gallery in conjunction with their class and use the objects on display as the basis for language discussion.”
The objects become the focus of discussion in the language the class is studying, he said.
Noting that the objects are not language specific, he recalled an exhibit of Mexican prints that provided discussion takeoff for students of many languages.
“Because of political and historical discussion, it didn’t exclude other languages. … Visual art is an effective way of developing skills for language learners,” he said.
“There are two main ways that our program works,” Flaherty said. “The idea is that the object becomes the catalyst for conversation in the target langue. The second thing is that the object supports comprehension in the target language.”
As an example, she said a student learning Spanish could more easily associate the word “rojo” with a red object if he could see the object while talking about it.
Earenfight said the program is also used by English as Second Language students, and the gallery works closely with the Carlisle community and surrounding area, as well as national conferences and colleagues at institutions like Middlebury College in Vermont and Kenyon College in Ohio.
He said that while Dickinson has offered language classes since 1978, it has been in the last few years that “the language component picked up steam.”
“We really began to see that it was a great way to teach students on campus because so many students are involved in language study,” he said. “The majority of our students study abroad. Out of any given graduating class, typically about 60 to 75 percent of our students study abroad.”
Flaherty said the award also recognizes the gallery for its bilingual exhibits and materials. In addition, native speaking guides are trained to teach foreign languages.
“The award recognizes a broad commitment to creating accessibility in museums through embracing foreign languages and people who speak foreign languages,” she said.
Earenfight said this is the first time the education department has been recognized specifically for language acquisition.
“Previous awards were more within the realm of art education,” he said.
The gallery, which Flaherty said has 9,000 pieces of permanent art, is located in the Weiss Center for the Arts, 240 W. High St.
According to the James W. Dodge Foreign Language Advocate Award website, “The Foreign Language Advocate Award is presented to honor an individual outside the profession for recognition of work on behalf of languages. Since 1990, this award has been presented in memory of James W. Dodge, who served as secretary-treasurer of the Northeast Conference for nearly 20 years.”
The website’s list of past recipients includes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and “Sesame Street” in 1999.