Last month, members of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) voted to endorse the Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP) in its current form, keeping it a viable option within the language curriculum for interested second, third and fourth-year students.
Budgeting issues made it uncelar whether or not SILP would be able to continue during the Spring 2016 semester, and, for the same financial reasons, it is still uncertain whether or not SILP will be accessible to Davidson students during the 2016-17 school year. Though participation in the program does not fulfill the foreign language or cultural diversity requirements for students – these must be fulfilled in more traditional classroom settings – SILP represents expansion opportunities available to Davidson students, especially those interested in pursing a subject outside of the classroom.
SILP was introduced to the College in 1999 primarily in order to expand students’ opportunities to learn foreign languages. Through SILP, motivated students can pursue studies of languages that are not currently offered by the college as traditional classes.
To participate in SILP, the students themselves must be clearly motivated and deemed—mostly by SILP Director Dr. Florin Beschea—able to handle independent study in terms of pacing and time management. For these reasons, students who apply to the program must hold a minimum GPA of 2.5.
After students express interest and demonstrate the academic requirements to be accepted, Beschea must be sure that he can find a native speaker of the given language on campus with whom the applicant could meet three times a week in order to practice speaking and conversational skills.
Beschea also undertakes the responsibility of finding study materials (i.e. textbooks and work- books) and a formal examiner for each given language, who will give the exam at the end of the semester. These examiners are usually accredited professors from other institutions of higher education; for example, students learning Hebrew this semester through SILP will be given an exam by a professor of Hebrew from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
According to Beschea, most SILP students fall into one (or more) of three different categories. Many are heritage speakers who want to simply improve their skills in a language to which they have likely already been moderately exposed.
Many other SILP students have an interest in studying abroad in a specific country, and they want to either be exposed to the language before arriving or have been inspired by their experience to continue learning a language after having studied abroad and being immersed in it. Beschea points, for example, to Brazilian Portuguese, one of the program’s most popular languages, explaining that several Economics majors studied abroad in Brazil, and, after coming back to Davidson, realized that the language would be a useful skill to master after having seen the prospects for business and economic study in Brazil.
Finally, some SILP students are simply interested in learning a third or fourth language after having already mastered a second. These students are often interested in the cultures or politics of the places in which their chosen languages are very popular and widely spoken. Interestingly, one of Davidson’s popular language programs grew out of SILP. The Arabic program on campus grew out of the large percentage of SILP students interested in the language. Beschea credits this emersion to the “trends in languages related to politics.” As nations in the Middle East and many other Arabic-speaking countries have become so important in international politics, the growth of students interested in learning Arabic grew steadily since SILP’s establishment and eventually reached the “critical mass of students,” according to Beschea, which led to the creation of a new, singular Arabic language department.
Many SILP students – current and former – have expressed their satisfaction with the program. Savannah Haeger ’16 decided to participate in SILP during her sophomore year prior to going abroad to Brazil. Recounting her experience in Brazil and emphasizing her strong language skills compared to her American peers (which Haeger knew by completing the SILP background report, prepared for the EPC by Dr. Shelley Rigger, Assistant Dean of Educational Policy), Haeger said, “Since Davidson doesn’t have a faculty member dedicated to Portuguese language instruction, I have no doubt that self-instructional Portuguese at Davidson laid the foundations for my academic and personal success once in Brazil, and I am a huge advocate of the self-instructional program.”
Beschea credits the program and the enthusiasm of the participating students as being extremely instrumental in creating new opportunities in study abroad options, careers, and cultural enlightenment. He describes SILP students as “completely motivated to learn the language,” to the extent that he believes a SILP student has never earned lower than a B+ during his time with the program.
Beschea maintains the importance of the program and believes, as it is “the perfect fit” for a liberal arts college like Davidson, that it should remain a part of the academic programs on campus, and he certainly believes that, if allowed by the college administration to continue during the 2016-2017 school year and beyond, it has the potential to introduce students to a variety of new languages and give them the best possible guidance in mastering them.