Our History

The Chicago Language Center continues to fulfill its founding mission:

  • To provide modern classroom facilities and multimedia resources in support of language teaching and learning for students, faculty, and instructors
  • To provide a state-of-the-art research and development center with appropriate staffing and equipment for the development of teaching materials and in support of research in second- language acquisition, language pedagogy, and linguistics
  • To provide professional development in language pedagogy and the use of technology in language instruction
  • To provide for the daily business center and office needs of language faculty, lecturers, and graduate student instructors at the University of Chicago

The Chicago Language Center provides innovative spaces and methods for teaching and research in the humanities.

We offer a number of opportunities for professional development and training for language faculty and graduate student instructors each quarter at the University of Chicago. We are proud to have supported language teaching and pedagogical development for over 25 years.

Phase One: Language Faculty Resource Center (1984-1996)

In 1984 the language-teaching faculty of the University of Chicago expressed their need for facilities and equipment that met their specialized needs. Late in the year an “Audio-Visual Resource Committee”, chaired by Carolyn Killean (Associate Professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations), began deliberations concerning an “audio-visual center” to be located in Cobb Hall, the center of undergraduate teaching.

The new center, named the Language Faculty Resource Center (LFRC), opened for business in May 1985, with Carolyn Killean serving as its first academic director. At first, the center occupied just two rooms on the second floor of Cobb Hall, and provided language instructors with two computers, a slide projector, a video camera and videocassette recorders capable of showing tapes in various formats and standards (including foreign ones).

In 1990 plans for building a Film Center required extensive renovation of Cobb Hall, and as a result more room became available for a more spacious LFRC. During the Autumn Quarter of 1990 the Pew Charitable Trusts granted the LFRC $450,000 to create a new facility, which began operations at the beginning of 1992. The new LFRC provided language instructors (and other faculty) with a multimedia classroom, a video production studio, and a satellite TV viewing room, in addition to the media carts, computers and a photocopier already in place.

Phase Two: Language Laboratories and Archives (1996-2006)

At the end of the 1995-96 academic year, Ms. Killean proposed to retire from teaching. The time was ripe, therefore, LFRC to be merged with a sister institution at the University of Chicago, the Language Laboratories and Archives (LLA), since they had overlapping constituencies (the language faculty) and complementary facilities for language learning, course development and linguistic research.

Image of LFRC from around 2005 The merger became official on April 1, 1996, and Karen Landahl assumed the directorship of the combined entity. The name “Language Laboratories and Archives” was retained as an umbrella designation for the two sites combined. (As a practical matter, the designation “Language Faculty Resource Center” stayed, while the former LLA took on a new title as the “Social Science site”.)

Phase Three: Center for the Study of Languages (2006-2013)

The Center for the Study of Languages (CSL) was launched under academic director Steven Clancy in September 2006 to consolidate many of the functions of the former LFRC and LLA in within newly designed facilities. With the help of a $1.8 million dollar grant from the Provost‘s Office, the new CSL became fully functional on the 2nd floor of Cobb Hall in January 2007.

Cobb 201 in the Language Center The CSL was designed by Rada Architects, Ltd. to integrate technical equipment and classrooms to meet the needs of today‘s language students and teachers. The new design accommodated various class sizes through a range of available classroom styles: from small rooms for one-on-one instruction, to café-style booths for small groups, to large seminar classrooms, all outfitted with the latest AV equipment. Additionally, CSL rooms were designed to host videoconferences and to provide satellite TV broadcasts of foreign news or entertainment programs.

Phase Four: Chicago Language Center (2013-present)

In September 2013, the CSL was rebranded as the University of Chicago Language Center and placed under a new academic director, Catherine Baumann.

From its inception onward, the LFRC/LLA/CSL/CLC has encouraged and supported innumerable projects to improve the teaching of foreign languages. Thanks in particular to the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning (founded in 1986), funding for these projects has been readily forthcoming. So far, course materials have been developed in audio, video and computer formats in such diverse languages as French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Marathi, Tibetan and Hindi. To see highlights of CLC activities, please check out our Project Archive.