The mission of the Isabelle Kaplan Center for Languages and Cultures at Bennington is to develop a model for teaching languages that recognizes the central importance of thinking about compelling ideas while achieving linguistic proficiency at all levels of instruction. Just as in mastering one’s native language, the urgency and importance to the speaker of the content is paramount.

While engaging with salient concepts in the cultures studied, students simultaneously increase their fluency in a language and their understanding of the cultures in which it developed. At Bennington, grammar, vocabulary, and fluency in speaking and writing are learned while engaging in a range of topics including history, art, literature, and popular culture. For instance, students take courses in: The Controversies that Formed Modern Spain; Art of Persuasion: French Literature and Rhetoric; America in Contemporary Italian Literature; Inventing Catchwords: Chinese Pop Culture Today; Morals in Japanese Children’s Literature. Introductory courses are focused on the society the language springs from—analyzing its media, studying its cultural norms, discussing and writing about it in the original language.

In addition to serving as the primary source of foreign language study at the College, the Center works in collaboration with schools in the local community offering professional development to language teachers.