By Dr Natália Pinazza,
Lecturer in Portuguese Studies
In the first week of May, I visited the University of Texas, Austin (UT), a world-class partner of the University of Exeter, to observe closely how their recently implemented Portuguese Flagship Programme works.
One of the most striking aspects of the Programme is its interdisciplinary scope and its ability to disseminate the Portuguese language. The Programme, which is funded by the Department of Defense, aims to develop a pool of professionals in various fields and eliminate language deficiency in the federal government.
For this reason, the Flagship approach to language learning does not limit language proficiency to the Humanities or specific fields such as translation and teaching. Instead, the Programme highlights the relevance of languages to the national workforce as a whole, strengthening the connections between the Department of Spanish and Portuguese with other Departments at UT. For instance, during my visit Professor Orlando Kelm, the director of the Flagship Programme, gave workshops for students at the School of Engineering, who were willing to have an international work experience in Brazil. The workshop consisted in providing an overview of Brazil’s region and culture and a language taster, which was followed by questions and an informal discussion where students could introduce themselves. UT also identifies international students from Brazil, who are willing to talk to their students and offering, in this way, the possibility to talk about the language and culture with a peer.
During the flagship, students have two experiences abroad – an intensive Portuguese Summer Programme in Bahia and a Capstone Year in São João del Rei, Minas Gerais, followed by 6 month internship. Nonetheless, only students who successfully completes the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) are eligible for the Capstone Year, during which students can also take discipline-based courses.
The flagship is, however, only one of the many initiatives of UT to offer language courses as part of an international training. UT has a number of other programmes, which draws students from other disciplines to the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, including for instance the Global Flag and Latin American Language FLAS (The Foreign Language and Area Studies), which is a Fellowship funded by the US Department of Education.
Therefore, there are two crucial forces behind the promotion of the Portuguese language at UT, and more generally, languages Higher Education in the US. Firstly, there is the political will – governmental funding and provisions stem from the Government’s understanding that language proficiency is key for a professional working in an increasingly international context. Secondly, there is an institutional organization that enables inter-disciplinary communication and collaboration.
In this way, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in UT is in constant dialogue with other departments to enhance the international profile of their courses and students. In the case of the Portuguese provision, UT also capitalizes on interdisciplinarity by putting Brazil in constant dialogue with other Latin American countries, thereby encouraging students to learn about the country and its language.