Celebrating the work of Nelleke van Deusen-Scholl, Director of the Center for Language Study

Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl
November 2, 2022

During her fifteen years as Director of the Yale Center for Language Study (CLS), Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl has had a profound influence on language learning at Yale. She has created opportunities for students to study heritage languages and has developed initiatives that expand Yale students’ access to less-commonly-taught languages. She has developed programs that advance innovative language teaching, and she has fostered a professional community for language lectors from across Yale. Van Deusen-Scholl will retire from Yale at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, leaving a legacy of innovation that has transformed language learning at Yale. In addition to serving as Director of the CLS, Van Deusen-Scholl is an Associate Dean in Yale College and Professor Adjunct in the Department of Linguistics. Van Deusen-Scholl has served as Director of the CLS since arriving at Yale in 2007 from the University of Pennsylvania, where she directed the Penn Language Center. Prior to her work at Penn, Van Deusen-Scholl was the academic coordinator at the Language Center and co-director of the ESL Summer Program at UC Berkeley.

Fostering innovation and building community for language learning at Yale

Van Deusen-Scholl is a scholar of second language acquisition, and her research explores the different ways that people learn languages, from the experiences of immigrants learning new languages to those of students receiving formal language education, and beyond. This research has driven her programmatic work: first at Berkeley, and then at Penn and Yale, Van Deusen-Scholl created opportunities and support for heritage language learners (that is, students who have knowledge of a language through cultural or family connections, but have not received formal training in the language). Sybil Alexandrov, Senior Lector II in Spanish and Portuguese reflected on the impact of Van Deusen-Scholl’s work in this area: “For many years, Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl has been instrumental in creating, maintaining, and inspiring a vibrant community of heritage language instructors at Yale. Dr. Van Deusen-Scholl organized targeted meetings, workshops, and community outreach opportunities that resulted in projects, both independent and collaborative, within and across languages, that took flight thanks to her guidance. Yale’s instructors of heritage languages have had a significant presence at local, national, and international conferences thanks to Dr. Van Deusen-Scholl’s encouragement. Those who have worked with her will remember with fondness and gratitude the deep impact she has had on their professional development.”

Van Deusen-Scholl’s impact has been profoundly felt by Yale’s language lectors. CLS programs such as the Instructional Innovation Workshop, Pedagogy Workshops, and the CLS Professional Development Fellowship have not only provided language instructors with opportunities to advance their pedagogical knowledge, but have also provided this community with a vital professional home at Yale. Jonas Elbousty, Senior Lector I of Modern Arabic and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Council on Middle Eastern Studies, and a past participant in the CLS Professional Development Fellowship program shared that Van Deusen-Scholl “has fostered a rigorous, vibrant, and collaborative environment, in which all instructional faculty get the chance to develop their teaching pedagogy and remain abreast of new teaching and learning resources. She is an amazing colleague and a compassionate person, and she will be sorely missed on campus.” In addition to her work with Lectors, Van Deusen-Scholl developed the CLS’s Certificate in Second Language Acquisition, which supports the next generation of language faculty by offering Yale graduate students training in language pedagogy.

At Yale and beyond, Van Deusen-Scholl’s colleagues admire her expertise and collaborative approach. Kirk Wetters, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and former chair of the Language Study Committee wrote that “it was an honor to serve with Nelleke for nearly ten years on the Language Study Committee. Under her leadership, the committee made countless large and small contributions to language teaching and learning at Yale. In addition, during her fifteen years as Director of the Center for Language Study, Nelleke helped make Yale an internationally recognized innovator in the fields of language pedagogy, instructional technology, and applied linguistics. In this role, she has also been a strong advocate for language lectors and instructional faculty at Yale, raising their visibility and building awareness of the expertise and devotion that language teaching requires.”

Leadership at Yale and beyond

Van Deusen-Scholl has served as a governing board member of the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning since 2001, and, from 2010-2013 was the consortium’s president. “Nelleke has, throughout her career from Berkeley to Penn to Yale, demonstrated the highest degree of professionalism and collegiality, working with members of the computer-assisted language learning community and the Consortium to advance the study of instructed second language acquisition and the development and leadership of language centers both at Penn and Yale,” said Andrew Ross, Director of the Language Center at Harvard, “Her mastery of the research landscape and seminal work in the field have provided broad shoulders for the researchers following her to stand upon, and a stellar role model for new leaders in this domain of work.  She occupies a very special place in the ranks of those who have made highly significant contributions to the field.”

Van Deusen-Scholl’s leadership on the Shared Course Initiative (SCI), is a particularly significant achievement. Launched in collaboration with Columbia and Cornell, and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, the SCI enables students at participating institutions to take credit-bearing courses in less-commonly taught languages offered by other participating schools. Stephane Charitos, Director of the Language Resource Center at Columbia, elaborated: “Under [Nelleke’s] leadership, the Center for Language Study has become a nationally recognized leader in promoting excellence in language and culture study and advancing innovation in support of language education. As such, and as one of the Principal Investigators of the Shared Course Initiative, a collaborative arrangement to share less commonly taught languages with Columbia and Cornell, she has been instrumental in using cutting-edge technology to make additional language learning opportunities available to students at Yale.” Nandipa Sipengane, Lector in Zulu, has offered courses through the SCI and reflected on her work with Van Deusen-Scholl: “Professor Van Deusen-Scholl has been such an exemplary mentor … I have been privileged to work with the CLS through the Shared Course Initiative. The space has helped me grow and build meaningful connections with other professionals in the field of language instruction and beyond.”

As Catherine Bauman, Director of the University of Chicago Language Center, put it, “Nelleke has been one of the most profoundly productive contributors in the fields of applied linguistics, second language acquisition, and second language teaching and learning. But her contributions go beyond her scholarly work – she is also a valued colleague, an always constructive critic, and a witty and erudite interlocutor. She will be missed! – yet I suspect we have not yet seen the end of her work in our field.”

During Van Deusen-Scholl’s tenure as Director of the CLS, Yale introduced new course offerings in American Sign Language, English as a Second Language, Polish, Turkish, Ottoman, and Yiddish; and Yale students have been able to earn credit in thirteen new languages, ranging from Bengali to Khmer to Wolof, through the Shared Course Initiative. Most recently, Van Deusen-Scholl has played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for future course offerings in Native American Languages. “Nelleke has been a visionary leader for the CLS,” reflected Tamar Gendler, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, “Her innovative approach to programming makes it possible for Yale students to study a wide range of languages representing the incredible diversity of human expression. Through her collaborative and steady approach to faculty support, she has fostered a thriving community for Yale’s language instructors. I am grateful for all she has done to help the study of language at Yale flourish.”