Acceptance Speech of the Inaugural John Hale Directorship
Stanford’s 1994 Commission on Undergraduate Education established the Language Center and charged it with four key missions: encouraging excellence in language teaching; establishing and maintaining performance standards; providing professional development opportunities for the teaching staff; and with developing a research program about language teaching and learning. This mission was a tall order to fill and when I interviewed for, and ultimately was appointed to, the position of Director of the Stanford Language Center I believed fundamentally in the intentions behind the mission and (either arrogantly or naively!) in my ability to carry them out. The intentions were rooted in a sincere commitment to preparing Stanford students to be excellent world citizens and leaders. This was not the empty multiculturalism found generally in popular culture –the kind that acknowledged other ways of life and thought but always on the terms of the English-speaking Western world. Instead, it conveyed the conviction that world citizen leaders had to be able to negotiate through the world on the terms of others. Being able to join a university guided by such wisdom and integrity was the greatest honor in my professional life.
The confidence to carry out the mission was rooted in research—whether that was research on language learning and assessment found in the Applied Linguistics literature or research on effective staff development found in the Principalship literature there was an important data base on which to guide the direction and momentum of the Stanford Language Center. Of course, setting a mission and charting a direction cannot be successful without administration and staff that also believe in the integrity of the mission. Indeed the instructors who taught in the various language programs had always been devoted teachers, yet they had never had the opportunity to flourish in their profession or to document their successes with students. The establishment of the Language Center gave these dedicated instructors a home of their own, a wider array of colleagues, an ability to participate in the language teaching community nationally, and a university-wide visibility that they had never enjoyed before. We set challenging performance standards for Stanford students in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and in all types of speech (interactional, presentational, and interpretive) for two years of instruction. No other university in the United States has developed and maintained such a systematic and systemic language assessment program. We also worked on the curriculum to insure that Stanford students select languages to study that complement and enhance their academic program.
Now in 2008, fifteen languages across two full years of instruction and another 30 languages on a demand basis are offered to more than 2000 students per quarter. The original staff of twenty language teachers has grown to sixty-four and is now counted as the most highly trained language teaching staff in the United States: Stanford has more oral- and writing proficiency-certified staff members than most States.
I am honored to hold the John Roberts Hale Directorship of the Stanford Language Center. But perhaps, much more importantly, I hold the Chair humbly and with great gratitude on behalf of all the language teachers who so expertly assist Stanford students in becoming caring world citizen-leaders.