Mercyhurst University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2014 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Pages: 3117-3124
ISBN: 978-84-617-2484-0
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 7th International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 17-19 November, 2014
Location: Seville, Spain
College students in the United States have taken years of English courses, and many have learned the basics of a second language, but what these students have studied hardly reflects how language is acquired, its complexity or how it is used. Yet understanding the role of language in our daily lives is essential in making us aware of our personal, professional, and social identity. There is hardly an academic area of study or facet of life where one is immune to social verbal interaction.

To address this need, the author’s university has added a Cross-Cultural Introduction to Sociolinguistics course to its newly revised undergraduate core curriculum. The course has already been taught for nearly two decades, and has been a favorite among language majors and minors. When several students suggested that the course be implemented as a core requirement for all students, the course underwent the rigorous process of application to the core curriculum, and was accepted in 2013. The author wishes to share personal experiences and data collected that illustrate the importance of including such a course in core curricula, especially as higher education institutions are seeking ways to incorporate more diversity and global focus into the student experience.

In the course, students are introduced to the basic concepts of sociolinguistics, exploring how our language usage is shaped by social factors such as origin, age, ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status. At the individual level, how we view our own linguistic habits and those of others forms an invaluable part of the dynamic of any human interaction. At the institutional and organizational levels, we use language as a tool of control. As one example, choosing which variety of a language will be labeled as the “standard” has critical implications for all levels of society; using that variety can grant someone access to better educational and professional opportunities, while not using it can deprive someone of those opportunities. In addition to language usage in various American contexts, students analyze how these factors affect communication strategies in a variety of other cultures. This exposure allows them to build both knowledge and tolerance for those whose language customs are different from their own.

While the course has only been a part of the core curriculum for a year, the author has elicited student feedback for over ten years. Students have been universally positive in their evaluations, and many have volunteered input following their graduation about how valuable their learning from the course has been in their professional and personal lives. Several claim that if they had been required to take the course as a first year student, it would have changed the way they viewed all of their subsequent coursework. Nearly all students stress the extent to which their tolerance and understanding of others --both people within their own culture and those from other cultures – increased due to what they learned in the course. This year, the author’s university will be hosting a symposium on confronting justice, and the author will give students in the course an opportunity to research various topics addressing how uninformed attitudes towards language usage often lead to discrimination. The students will then be able to share their research findings with the university and community, further emphasizing the value of including such a course in the core curriculum.
Cross-cultural sociolinguistics, core curriculum.