Supervised Independent Courses: Frequently Asked Questions

1) How do I study a language on my own? Not every student is ready to tackle independent language study. When you apply to the program, you will be asked about your previous experience in learning languages. If you have been successful in regular classroom courses and you have a strong motivation to learn the language, you are a good candidate for independent study. However, you also need to consider whether your preferred styles for learning language and your current course/work load are compatible with independent study.

Students who enjoy figuring things out for themselves, like to organize their own learning, and are comfortable with minimal feedback and interaction with an instructor, will do well. Students who learn best through extensive interaction with an instructor, prefer highly structured assignments, and like frequent feedback, may find the independent study format frustrating.

Regardless of your learning style, you must also have time in your schedule to accommodate language study. Independent study takes at least as much, if not more, time than preparation for a classroom course. When you apply to the program, you will be asked about your other course and work commitments. You should have already thought about where in your schedule you can accommodate a minimum of 7 hours a week (one hour a day) devoted exclusively to your language course. Successful students map out for themselves what periods of time each day they plan on devoting to language study and are able to keep the schedule they set for themselves. (back to top)

2) Where do I find my materials? Each student purchases his/her own textbooks. Required texts are listed on the course syllabus. Most texts are available online or can be special ordered through a local bookstore. Check your syllabus or with the FCSILP office about any special instructions. Be sure to purchase the package with CDs if the syllabus indicates audio should be included. Be sure to purchase the edition of the text indicated on the syllabus because, occasionally, both old and new editions will be available for sale. Check with the FCSILP office if in doubt about which text to purchase.

For online video see the LangMedia Website developed by the Center: LangMedia: Resources for World Languages

Many of the languages also have online materials. Web addresses are given on each syllabus. (back to top)

3) Who is my conversation partner and what do we do in a conversation session? Each student participates in a weekly conversation section led by a native-speaking conversation partner. Conversation partners are normally international students enrolled at one of the Five Colleges. They apply for the position and are interviewed by the program director and faculty consultants. The conversation partner's job is to prepare topics of conversation using the structures and vocabulary the student is studying. In a successful conversation section, the conversation partner and students work hard to use the target language as much as possible and to minimize the use of English.

You need to be aware of the proper role of the conversation partner and the conversation sessions in the overall program. The conversation partner is not a "teacher," and a conversation session is not the same as a classroom course meeting. The conversation partner is not supposed to present a grammar lesson or even be able to explain points of grammar (you speak English, but could you succinctly explain relative pronouns to a non-speaker?) The expertise of the conversation partner lies in speaking the language. Your goal in a conversation session should be to speak the language with the conversation partner and others in the group as much as possible.

You should arrive with conversation materials already prepared. A student who arrives unprepared slows down the entire group. You also need to understand that the conversation session is a supplement to your independent study and not the determiner of what will be required of you at your final evaluation. You are responsible for all material assigned for the semester, regardless of whether that material was ever covered or used in a conversation session. Your syllabus outlines the material you are responsible for at final evaluation time. There will only be time to use a portion of this material in the conversation sessions.

Conversation partner assignments are made at the beginning of each semester. The conversation partner sets a regular meeting time and place based on the schedules of all students in the group (typical group size is 1-4 students). This is a Five College program, and conversation sections regularly involve students from more than one campus. The FCSILP program office will determine on which campus the group will meet. The meeting time and place should remain the same throughout the semester. Conversation partners are not responsible for making up sessions for students who miss the regular meeting time. (back to top)

4) How am I graded? 80% of your final grade comes from a final oral evaluation conducted by a specialist in the language. 10% of your final grade is based on your attendance record and 10% on on-time submission of weekly self-asessments reports. The evaluators are professors who specialize in the language. Most are professors at colleges and universities that offer majors in the language you are studying. Your conversation partner does not have any role in determining your final grade for the course. However, your conversation partner sends the FCSILP office a weekly report about whether you were present and prepared for your conversation session. These reports allow the program director to keep up with your progress and to follow-up if you fall behind. (back to top)

5) When will my final oral evaluation be and what will it be like? Final oral evaluations for this program take place at the end of each semester.  In the middle of the semester, you will be asked for detailed and accurate schedule information for the oral evaluation period. Based on that schedule information, you will be given the date and time of your oral in early Novermber or in early April. You need to be aware that the "window of opportunity" for scheduling individual evaluations is very small. Because there are often limited times when evaluators are available, you will need to be flexible in the scheduling of your final oral. Once your oral is scheduled, please be aware that it is not usually possible to change the time. You will need to be able to arrange your schedule to be present for your oral evaluation. The oral evaluation must be completed in order to pass the course.

Most oral evaluations are done via Skype because the evaluators are at other colleges or universities. Some are oral proficiency interviews done through the certified testing service run by the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). ACTFL oral proficiency interivews are done via telephone.

The final evaluation is entirely oral. There is not a written component. Each professor has his/her own method of conducting the evaluation, but most use some combination of conversational interaction and oral question and answer. A student may also be asked to read aloud in the language. Remember that you are responsible for all material on your syllabus, regardless of what was covered in your conversation sessions. (back to top)

6) What if I need to drop the course or want to take an incomplete? The Five College Supervised Independent Language Program is a special program that invests considerable money in each individual student. Conversation partners are hired at the beginning of the semester based on the number of enrolled students. The program also contracts with its consulting professors for final evaluations. Given these expenses, drops and incompletes are costly to the program and have a negative effect on the opportunities available to students in future semesters. Therefore, the Five College Supervised Independent Language program has strict policies and consequences for dropping a course or obtaining an incomplete.

Drop policies and deadlines vary by campus in order to meet local requirements. Each student will be informed about how his/her campus policy applies to FCSILP at the time of registration. Regardless of the home campus policy, no student from any campus will be allowed to drop a FCSILP course after the program's mid-semester deadline. Each student will be informed of this deadline, as well as of earlier deadlines on his/her home campus, at the time of registration. Exceptions will be made only in the case of documented medical or personal emergency.

Incompletes will also only be granted in cases of documented medical or personal emergency and in consultation with your dean or faculty advisor. You must be aware of the policy regarding incompletes on your home campus.You should also keep in mind the unique evaluation structure of FCSILP. If, for example, you take an incomplete during the term, the next possible opportunity to make up the incomplete is at the end of the following semester when final oral evaluations are again scheduled for the course. Under no circumstances will the program arrange for a final makeup evaluation to be taken at a time different from the usual end of semester date. In addition, in order to assure scheduling of a makeup evaluation, you must enroll in the next level of the language in the following semester in order to take the makeup evaluation from the previous semester. This enrollment assures that a professor will be hired to give evaluations to currently enrolled students in the language. In no case will the program arrange for an evaluation solely to accomodate your finishing an incomplete. (back to top)

7. Where is the FCSILP office/Five College Center for the Study of World Languages?  The Center is located at Amherst College, at 79 S. Pleasant St. in downtown Amherst. The 38, 43, 31, and Peter Pan buses stop directly in front of our building. Click here for directions and a picture of our building.

Bus schedules and route maps

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