Prof. Juergen Kempff
As the Director of the Spanish Language Curriculum, I wear, in principle, two very different hats: on one hand, I am responsible for the smooth operation of the lower-division language program, its offerings and all of its students, as well as the training, coordination and supervision of 30-35 Graduate Teaching Assistants, while, on the other hand, I also regularly teach advanced grammar or linguistics classes to our upper-division undergraduate and graduate students alike. I like my job especially well because it involves both teaching and administration.
In its most fundamental definition, I view education as a democratic process of exploration. As such, it entails mutual responsibility on the part of the institution as well as on the part of the student, and it must seek to reflect the ever-changing local, national, and international needs of our society.
The role of the modern university, then, is to develop programs which demonstrate sensitivity towards the changing needs of the community and a belief in the value of the individual and his/her potential for intellectual, ethical, personal, and social growth, as well as to provide a staff of dedicated professionals, committed to creating this environment which stimulates intellectual curiosity, nurtures learning, and develops an understanding of society and how individuals can influence its inner workings. It is the university's obligation to create such an environment of cooperation, mutual respect, and trust. The student, on the other hand, has to develop a certain degree of self-understanding and a sense of self- appreciation, pursue his/her educational objectives, and ultimately stand accountable for his/her own progress.
Thanks to its unique position within the educational hierarchy, the university not only empowers students to formulate and realize educational goals which will promote their personal growth as individuals, but it also needs to facilitate their full participation in a rapidly changing world.
This obviously implies that the university's role has to be one of a truly comprehensive institution of higher learning; that is, its programs have to reflect a variety of opportunities in a variety of fields, serving a variety of students, the traditional as well as the non- traditional.
The role of a comprehensive university is often undervalued, especially within the academic community at large. Nevertheless, I believe that one of the principal missions of today's modern university, that of educating the traditional as well as the non-traditional student, is not only one of the tougher jobs in higher education, but it uniquely fulfills the promise of a democratic education.
Just as education is a democratic process of exploring knowledge, teaching is the transfer of that knowledge coupled with creating, in the student, the necessary enthusiasm and motivation to learn new and different things and to gain a different perspective on a variety of ideas that surround us.
Again, like education in general, teaching is a two-way street. While the student has to demonstrate a certain amount of intellectual curiosity, the teacher has to search for the most appropriate way to present his/her own knowledge. There has to exist a considerable amount of dedication to thought, reflection, and open dialogue. We, the teachers, have to show respect for the students' situation and their points of view. Teachers have to provide a secure, humane, and fertile environment for experimentation, learning by discovery, and personal development towards a productive life and positive interaction within the society at large; that is, the classroom has to provide for a learning atmosphere free from tensions, one that promotes the worth and dignity of the student because only then do we arrive at real communication, the primary ingredient for the supposed transfer of knowledge, and proficiency.
In our field, that of language teaching, it is furthermore important that we not only teach the language per se, but also some of the history, literature, and culture of the respective country if we want the student to become linguistically, socially, and communicatively competent in that language.
This holds especially true in some parts of this country where we encounter a large amount of Spanish speaking population; these are very often students who express themselves very well orally, but lack proficiency in the written language. With these "heritage speakers" it is of particular importance that the teacher approach this reality diplomatically, respecting their cultural heritage.
To summarize, my philosophy about teaching is quite simple: show respect, be compassionate and understanding, develop the ability for critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis --all within a setting of high standards.
in the Spanish language and culture was born during an extended period
when I lived in Spain while teaching German and English at an accredited
language school in Valencia. I was taken in by the language, the people,
and the culture in general. In 1984, after receiving my B.A. in Spanish
Literature, German Literature, and Linguistics from the University of
California in San Diego, I continued my studies at the graduate level at
of California in Santa Barbara.
Throughout my studies of the Spanish language, there was always a certain question that did not allow my mind to come to rest: why do native speakers never make a mistake with respect to the usage of the imperfect vs. the preterite, or the indicative vs. the subjunctive, why don't they have any problem with the appropriate usage of ser vs. estar, or por vs. para? The understanding of these rather difficult concepts, which I not only noticed within myself but also with my students, prompted me to study these semantic, conceptual dichotomies more in depth.
In 1984, at the beginning of my graduate studies, I wrote a brief article about por and para, studying the problem based on the rather theoretical concept of semantic space, with the conclusion that while por maintains the subject in its original "semantic space", para takes it away, moves it to a different "semantic space", thus delimiting its trajectory.
It was only natural then that I should devote my master's thesis to another of these dichotomies, ser vs. estar. I studied the problem within both a syntagmatic as well as a semantic framework. Again, I found this concept of "delimitation" to be a deciding factor in choosing one or the other member of that dichotomy: while estar delimits the attribute in a given space and/or time and focuses on some sort of "change", ser does not.
In my doctoral dissertation "PRETERITO INDEFINIDO vs. PRETERITO IMPERFECTO: un estudio de la categoría TIEMPO en el actual sistema verbal español.", I attacked the more complex problem of the choice between the preterite and the imperfect. Here I looked first at various types of texts such as narrations vs. comments. I then examined the problem from the syntagmatic and the semantic point of view. The conclusion I reached was that the primary difference between these two variants of a simple past has to be one of tense, and not of aspect as is commonly believed. I later published some of those findings in an artice entitled: "Time and Its Boundaries: A Question of Speaker- Perspective", Romance Language Annals V (1993) 441-444.
In 1994, I published an article about the use of the subjunctive vs. the indicative moods, "Reality and Its Limitations: Some Considerations About the Spanish Subjunctive", Perspectives in Foreign Language Teaching VII (1994) 73-86.
In 2006, I co-authored the completely revised and expanded 3rd edition of Fonética y fonología españolas, the text used in our phonetics course. The book is accompanied by exercises, keys to most of the exercises, seven "exámenes de práctica" along with the corresponding keys, as well as a multitude of graphics and sound files to expand on the material discussed in the text.
At present, I am also working on a (text)book dealing with the finer points of Spanish grammar to be used specifically in my Advanced Spanish Grammar course, as well as a (text)book for my Introduction to Spanish Linguistics course, two courses I teach every year.
Parallel to these more theoretical research issues, I am continually working on incorporating new technological developments into the classroom.
My research philosophy/interests are two-fold: I try not only to keep up with the developments in my specific field of Hispanic linguistics, but I also try to contribute to the field in some decisive way. Second, I believe that the insights gathered from research will make me a better teacher, better able to transfer my knowledge to my students.
Honors & Awards:
Last Updated: December 31, 2007
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