Modern Languages Department update

Evelyn Cristoph explains how the department provides students with a variety of ways to learn — in the classroom and beyond.

May 1, 2020
Evelyn Christoph

Evelyn Christoph has been a French instructor at Exeter since 1985. Her interest in the language was sparked at Brown University and, after living in France as an au pair, she continued her studies at New York University, receiving a master’s degree in French language and literature. Christoph also coordinates the Teaching Intern Program for Exeter Summer, an opportunity for aspiring educators to practice the Harkness teaching method.

Christoph believes true mastery of a modern language goes beyond literacy — it requires cultural immersion. “At Exeter, we’re creating courses and curriculum that offer students different ways of learning,” she says. Of course, in class students speak with one another in their chosen language of study, but what they’re talking about goes beyond traditional foreign language primers. Some days, students discuss a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, the next it’s contemporary themes in the Chinese film Farewell My Concubine— all supported by online interactive workbooks. “We want to provide something experiential beyond reading and classroom discussion ... tools that appeal to different types of learners.”

Giving our students opportunities like studying abroad is a real gift. Many of them have never had an opportunity to travel or live outside the U.S. These programs are life-changing."
Evelyn Christoph

Especially important is using contemporary media and events to reinforce speaking and comprehension as well as cultural immersion, Christoph adds. In one advanced Spanish course, she explains, students watch and discuss “telenovelas,” popular Spanish television shows. In another, students delve into human rights and social justice issues in francophone societies. Ultimately, it’s about making Exeter students global citizens. “My hope for students is that they have experiences that foster curiosity and let them explore their passions and other cultures,” Christoph says.

French Instructor Amadou Talla works with a student.


Department quick takes

Studying abroad

“We have term-abroad programs for seniors in every language that is a diploma requirement,” Christoph says. “We’re not aware of any other high school offering that.” While abroad on one of the 17 curricular programs on five continents that Exeter offers, students will often live with host families and attend local schools. “Giving our students opportunities like studying abroad is a real gift,” Christoph says. “Many of them have never had an opportunity to travel or live outside the U.S. ... These programs are life-changing."

Eight languages

A robust program of courses in eight languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Russian, offers students multiple options for competency and sets a foundation for success in an increasingly global society. Inspired by a summer internship in Morocco, Audrey Vanderslice ’20 deepened her proficiency in Arabic by creating an Arabic news broadcast that showcased her speaking and presentation skills.

Student-teacher collaboration 

Working with Modern Languages Instructor Amadou Talla, Vanderslice’s senior capstone project furthered her knowledge of Middle Eastern politics through studying Arabic news and traditional Middle Eastern texts. “We try to deliver a practical knowledge of a language within a variety of cultures,” says Christoph. “We want to keep students engaged beyond the language requirement.”

Visiting authors and filmmakers

The Modern Languages Department is able to explore issues of equity at a deeper level by bringing authors and filmmakers to campus. A notable example was a visit by Senegalese director Samba Gadjigo, whose documentary Sembène! tells the story of Ousmane Sembène, the father of African cinema. Gadjigo screened his documentary and spoke with students and faculty afterward about his experiences as Sembène’s colleague and biographer.

More to Explore

French class at Exeter.


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