In 2012 the US Department of Education designated SDSU as a Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI). When coupled with SDSU’s location on the US-Mexico border, this designation captures the unique sense of place that frames the Department of Spanish and Portuguese’s academic and pedagogical vision. The knowledge that we teach in a place where over 28% of students are Hispanic and live in a contact zone in which many languages and cultures interact throughout the social and institutional fabric of this borderland shapes the vision of our department as a place where bilingualism, as an increasingly necessary communicative competence at the personal and interpersonal levels as well as in the professional terrains, flourishes. Bilingualism is one of the cornerstones of our curriculum; one of our overarching goals is teaching those linguistic and cultural competencies that enable our undergraduate and graduate students to develop the skills necessary to become bilingual, bicultural professionals.
Our students span a broad linguistic spectrum: from English monolinguals to highly proficient bilinguals in English and Spanish, to those seeking to become fully trilingual (in English, Spanish and Portuguese). On the bilingual spectrum are many students known as Heritage Language Learners (HLL), whose Spanish-language skills vary according to the place where they have grown up, their language experiences, and/or the generational distance from their Spanish-speaking place of origin. Because intrinsic to the teaching of language is the teaching of culture, our curriculum in the lower-level language program introduces students to the ways of life of the Spanish-speaking world, and majors and minors deepen their knowledge of the cultural practices of our multicultural world through a varied program of study that includes the study of literature, linguistics, language pedagogy, translation, interpretation, and the professional use of Spanish.
The teaching of Portuguese and the minor in Luso-Brazilian studies provide the SDSU student community with linguistic and intercultural skills up to a superior level, relevant to the position occupied by Portuguese as a global language and the fifth most spoken in the world. As the largest Portuguese program between Los Angeles and the southern border, we serve students ranging from English monolinguals to members of the sizeable Luso-Brazilian community in the region, to English/Spanish bilinguals, for whom we dedicates a specific track, considering the linguistic and cultural affinities between the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds.
Linguistic and cultural contact zones are rich, complex places that are replete with great benefits and opportunities, and also many challenges. We envision our curriculum as one that does not shy away from complexity, but rather provides the intellectual and critical thinking tools that our students need in order to participate as professionals and civic actors in the institutional and social discourses they will confront as they make their way into the world as bilingual and bicultural graduates from SDSU.