Foreign Language Instruction Through Philosophy Courses

Stephen Angle, professor of philosophy and East Asian studies at Wesleyan University, teaches one section of his Classical Chinese Philosophy course in English, and another in Mandarin.

Professor Angle, who also directs the university’s Fries Center for Global Studies, noticed a drop in enrollments in foreign language courses (a trend not unique to Wesleyan). Part of the response to this was to create second-language sections for courses typically taught in English.

Roy Lichtenstein, from the series “Landscapes in the Chinese Style”

His Classical Chinese Philosophy course is one of several discussed in a recent article in the Washington Post. It’s the only philosophy course mentioned. The students in the course include some native speakers of Mandarin and some who are learning the language.

I’m curious about whether other philosophy professors have taught philosophy to native English-speakers in a foreign language, or are planning on doing so. It seems unusual. (In contrast to parts of the world in which English is not the primary language, where it is not uncommon for philosophy courses to be taught in English to students for whom it is a second language.)

If you have taught philosophy in a way that also serves to teach your students a foreign language (even if that foreign language is English), it would useful to hear from you. Please feel free to share your experiences, how the course came about and why, particular challenges, and so on. Thank you.

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Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
4 years ago

It’s pretty common for some foreign language departments to do this. The UVA German department did courses on Nietzsche in German pretty regularly when I was there. I’m guessing that one barrier here is that you’d have to speak the language fluently or beyond fluently to do this. (The prof at UVA who did this was himself German). At one point my German was good enough to follow graduate level classes in German at a German university and read Hegel and Kant in the original but even then I would not have felt at all comfortable trying to teach say Kant in German to anyone. I’m guessing very few philosophers will speak the relevant language well enough to be qualified to do this sort of thing, which is a pity since it’s an interesting way to learn a language at a higher level.