Published: April 1, 2024

The former CU Boulder Modified Foreign Language Program has dropped the word ‘foreign’ from its name to emphasize inclusivity and recognize the harm inherent in the word

The University of Colorado Boulder Anderson Language and Technology Center (ALTEC) and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese are dropping the “f” word.

Beginning today, the former Modified Foreign Language Program is now the Modified Language Program, dropping the word “foreign” to emphasize a commitment to creating a more inclusive and equitable educational environment and recognize the harm inherent in the term “foreign” when applied to languages other than English.

The Modified Foreign Language Program (MFLP) was established in 1998 and initially focused on speech pathology and language learning disabilities. Over 26 years, it transformed into a collaborative between ALTEC and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, offering modified Spanish courses for students with dyslexia, learning disabilities, PTSD or who otherwise experience difficulties learning another language.

The now-Modified Language Program (MLP) is one of the few university programs in the field of modified language instruction nationally. While some schools and universities allow at-risk students to waive language requirements or take substitution courses, research suggests that at-risk students have the ability to learn another language. Also, feedback from former students emphasizes how important and impactful the program was for them.

The MLP provides support to students facing language-related challenges. Class sizes are capped at 14 students, allowing instructors to give personalized instruction that caters to individual needs and learning styles. A multisensory teaching approach enhances memory and retention, while accommodations ensure every student has the chance to succeed. Additionally, free tutoring services offered through ALTEC further supplement classroom learning.

Dropping the word “foreign” from the program name signifies a commitment to linguistic justice and acknowledges the exclusionary connotations of the term when applied to languages other than English.

In the United States, MLP administrators note, the adjective “foreign” has become a shorthand when referring to languages other than English. This trend previously extended to leading professional organizations like ACTFL, previously known as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, as well as publications and other educational institutions, including CU Boulder.

Now, CU Boulder has replaced the adjective “foreign” with “world” when describing languages other than English, and ACTFL has dropped the word “foreign” from its materials and website as well as from the organization name. This change reflects the understanding that diversity and inclusivity should be celebrated and that the word “foreign” can be alienating and exclusionary, MLP administrators note. Moreover, for Spanish-heritage speakers and Latinx-identifying individuals, Spanish is not "foreign," but a local language and part of a cultural identity.

The name change happened April 1 to coincide with the start of Celebrate Diversity Month. The name change and continuing evolution of the program were spearheaded by Elizabeth Huard, program coordinator in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; Ayelen Costa, educational services coordinator at ALTEC; Susanna Pàmies, director of ALTEC; Esther Brown, chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; and Tracy Quan, a linguistic expert who consulted on the name change.

Did you enjoy this article? Subcribe to our newsletter. Passionate about learning languages? Show your support.