Chicago Language Center Director Dr. Cathy Baumann and Office of Language Assessment Director Ahmet Dursun participated on a panel at the annual Pacific Ancient and Modern Languages Association (PAMLA) conference.

Sharing the panel with Dr. Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil of Stanford University, Dr. Baumann and Mr. Dursun discussed graduate reading requirements and the difference between effective language translation and actual reading comprehension. 

The panel was structured so that each participant built off each others’ findings, allowing for an organic argument against traditional graduate comprehension requirements to be presented to interested PAMLA attendees.

Dr. Bernhardt-Kamil began the talk with the current state of PhD reading requirements, the value placed in translating foreign language scholarly articles in determining a student’s language comprehension level, and the lack of evidence of the practice’s efficacy.

According to Dr. Bernhardt-Kamil, there is a widespread use of translation tasks to assess scholarly reading proficiency, despite a noticeable dearth of evidence supporting this approach. 

Mr. Dursun followed up with a discussion centered around innovative assessment practices which emphasize the importance of picturing an exam’s outcome when designing and conducting assessments. 

This practice, called Domain Analysis, believes that the act of translation does not automatically signal comprehension of a text, but only the one-to-one correlation of its linguistic components. 

Dr. Baumann finished the panel providing insights into how to bring onboard other stakeholders like department chairs and program directors across the field of language studies.  

Research courses that have been reverse designed from the comprehensive exam have been well-received by graduate students who have enrolled in them, and Dr. Baumann assured the crowd that this evidence was compelling enough to warrant further study and adoption.  

PAMLA hosted a number of other language-related workshops at this conference, including a discussion with artist Willie Little and a short documentary film festival.   

This was the 120th annual conference hosted by PAMLA, who has promoted the creation, advancement, and diffusion of the aesthetic practices and knowledge of ancient & modern languages, literatures, cultures, and the arts. 

Next year’s conference is set to take place at the Margaritaville Resort in Palm Springs, California starting October 31st and running until November 4th.