Our Mission

As a hub for professional development and services for the instructors and graduate students teaching 50+ languages within the University, the Chicago Language Center promotes and supports language study and increases the visibility of language offerings, helping students navigate and go beyond the university’s language requirements.

We strive to reframe language learning and language proficiency as the development of a set of functional, real-world skills that broaden and deepen all student learning at the University, regardless of discipline. We believe that these skills not only enhance engagement and performance across all disciplines on campus, they also promise heightened opportunities as students pursue academic and professional careers beyond campus.

We accomplish these objectives by:

  • Pushing beyond established teaching and testing practices toward groundbreaking pedagogy
  • Spurring innovation in curricular design with a reverse design approach informed by proficiency-oriented, performance-based assessment practices
  • Providing our instructional colleagues with knowledge and practical skills that build upon and complement their existing expertise, allowing them to be the agents of their own pedagogical transformation
  • Fostering a community of practice and collaboration that both stimulates and furthers our work in the CLC and informs the work being done by everyone teaching, learning and using languages across campus
  • Disseminating our work and the work of our colleagues through research publications, workshop offerings, and attending and hosting national and international conferences
Cathy Baumann speaks to President Alivisatos

Our History

Like many language centers, the CLC has evolved within its ecosystem at the University of Chicago.

In 1984, language instructors expressed a need for facilities and equipment that met their specialized needs. 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 main classroom building on campus. 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.

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 university received a Pew Charitable Trusts Grant in the amount of $450,000 to create a new facility, which began operations at the beginning of 1992. The new LFRC provided language instructors (and other language faculty) with a multimedia classroom, a video production studio, and a satellite TV viewing room, in addition to the media carts, computers and photocopier already in place.

At the end of the 1995-96 academic year, as Prof. Killean proposed to retire from teaching, the LFRC merged with the Language Laboratories and Archives (LLA), since they had overlapping constituencies and complementary facilities for language learning, course development, and linguistic research. The merger became official on April 1, 1996, and Karen Landahl (Professor in the Department of Linguistics) assumed the directorship.

In 2005 the university charged a committee to reexamine the facilities of the LFRC and LLA, and to make recommendations for their further use. The Center for the Study of Languages (CSL)—newly renovated by Rada Architects, Ltd. with a $1.8 million dollar grant from the Provost’s Office—opened its doors in January 2007 under academic director Steven Clancy (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures). The project saw the remodeling of the entire second floor of Cobb with a design that was intended to be less formal and foster a greater sense of community among language instructors. The new Center accommodated various classroom seating capacities through a range of available classroom sizes and styles. Included in the redesign were small rooms for one-on-one instruction, café-style booths for small groups, and more traditional 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. The Center itself incorporated a larger space for the development of pedagogical materials with dedicated cubicles for creating or editing digital video and audio for classroom use.

In September 2013 the CSL was rebranded as the University of Chicago Language Center (CLC) and its first fulltime director, Catherine Baumann (Senior Instructional Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies) was appointed. Since then, with support of the Humanities Division and the College, it has been possible to greatly expand the CLC’s programming, especially in its role as a hub for professional development in language assessment and pedagogy. The CLC received a $2 million dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2016. Through the program, entitled “Transforming Language Instruction,” the CLC collaborates with instructors of less commonly taught languages across North America in assessment-driven reverse design projects that make possible the realignment of their curricula with proficiency-based outcomes. The Language Pedagogy Innovation Initiative (LPII) was established with Curriculum Innovation Funds from the Provost’s Office and the College in 2017. Instructional professors of languages across UChicago are engaged in multiple assessment-driven pedagogical projects in collaboration with professional staff in the CLC. These projects go beyond rethinking and realigning established curricula, to the creation of online courses, innovative heritage language offerings, and groundbreaking language for specific purposes (LSP) curricula.