Dr. Ruggiero

Dr. Diana Ruggiero's New Book on Teaching World Languages for Specific Purposes

"Teaching World Languages for Specific Purposes: A Practical Guide"


Dr. Diana Ruggiero is an Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Memphis. Dr. Ruggiero recently gave a talk for the Cluster on Language Research to promote her new book, “Teaching World Languages for Specific Purposes: A Practical Guide”.

We interviewed Dr. Ruggiero to learn more about her research, her teaching philosophy, and her book. The book is now available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Teaching-World-Languages-Specific-Purposes/dp/1647121590.


1. How did you become interested in teaching Language for Specific Purposes?

As a graduate student at The Ohio State University, I knew it was important to learn languages applied to professions, especially in the community.

I then realized that was going to be my career.

Professor Terrell Morgan created a Spanish course in Ohio, and I was lucky enough to teach the class. Most of the Spanish learned was to be applied in the community and for health purposes. Students did volunteer work in the clinic and created flyers for patients.

I have always been committed to social justice through engaged scholarship and teaching. I am exploring the concerns among language scholars regarding the role and future direction of modern languages in higher education. As a result of global migration, commerce, and tourism, students are faced with navigating and leading in an increasingly multilingual and multicultural society. World language scholars and educators are responding to this reality by calling for curricular reform in world language higher education. Specifically, world language departments are being asked to provide greater depth and breadth of language study to foster translingual and transcultural competence. These interrelated terms highlight the need for students to go beyond proficiency in a second language to competently navigate between and across different languages and cultural worldviews. This implies acquiring and applying specialized language skills and cultural knowledge and a greater understanding of how culture informs cross-cultural interactions. It also means providing students with immersive learning opportunities in multicultural contexts, whether in the classroom, in the local community, or abroad. This need for communicative and cultural competencies and engaged scholarship is made even more apparent following the 2020 pandemic and the current racial and political unrest that has swept the nation and world.  

In the spirit of this agenda, I seek to better the future of my students, profession, and local community through my research, teaching, and service. To this end, I integrate community service learning (CSL) into my teaching, including at the graduate level. Most recently, I developed and taught a service-learning course for the University of Memphis Honors Program that invited students to partake in a CSL project in Cahuita, Costa Rica.

2. What does the relationship between research and teaching mean to you?

I do not conceive of teaching without research; if we do not have evidence of how methods work, how can we teach? My emphasis on world languages for specific purposes (WLSP) and community service learning (CSL) reflects my belief in the transformative potential of education. While students reinforce and advance their Spanish language skills in contextually specific ways in my courses, they are also exposed to and allowed to reflect on critical questions and issues of relevance to the world into which they will graduate. Questions of culture, diversity, community, nationhood, and cross-cultural communication, for example, are arguably crucial to developing our students’ understanding of themselves and the people and communities they may come to serve and represent. These questions become even more salient for our native Spanish speaking and heritage students and those of other cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. In addition to content, therefore, students in my WLSP courses also learn metacognitive skills and tools that help them think critically about questions, issues, and concepts relevant to forming their identity and worldview.

3. How has your research impacted academia and the community?

My research contributes to these broader academic discussions regarding curricular reform toward a more dynamic higher education world language curriculum for the twenty-first century. Specifically, my primary research in WLSP and CSL illuminates the need for WLSP in world language graduate curricula and the value of CSL in bridging classroom and community learning, improving living conditions for Spanish-speaking and other underserved populations in Memphis, fostering student intercultural competence, developing twenty-first-century skills, enhancing heritage learner education, and advancing a multiliteracies pedagogy. Cutting across both of my research areas, my emphasis on pedagogy and CSL and intercultural sensitivity, in particular contribute to the development of best practices in WLSP, CSL, and world language higher education.

4. Why is it essential to teach World Languages for Specific Purposes in our globalized society nowadays? 

I believe WLSP is the future of World Languages and will integrate all we do. For this reason, I published a book with Georgetown University Press on teaching WLSP that builds on my research and teaching as an engaged scholar in world language higher education. Significantly, it foregrounds community engagement and provides language educators with practical strategies for developing community service-learning projects among other community-based teaching methods and techniques in world language higher education. This is important for updating the current world language curriculum and maximizing our chances for success in bettering our students and society. For example, this book advocates explicitly for community engagement as a way of overcoming such challenges and obstacles in education and our world today as those posed by the pandemic.

I also recently co-published a textbook on medical Spanish that likewise emphasizes community engagement and the importance of community and culture in healthcare in general. Made possible by a generous grant by Latino Memphis (a local non-profit), this textbook stresses the importance of language interpreting to foster goodwill toward the community and is specially designed to help prepare students for board certification exams in Spanish medical interpreting. These publications are in the service of teaching WLSP.

5. Do you think World Languages for Specific Purposes helps students from minoritized or underserved communities to engage in social justice? How?

WLSP is intrinsically committed to empowering local communities and better-preparing students for the challenges of the modern global world through engaged scholarship and innovative and purpose-driven teaching. I see this as particularly important in the wake of COVID-19 and the recent global social and political unrest. WLSP seeks to engage and support local communities in their respective struggles and to help build capacity among them in partnership with Universities and institutions. To this end, it also seeks to advance a socially responsive pedagogical agenda for WLSP that better prepares students for lifelong engagement with learning and service in multicultural contexts. As a Latina in higher education, I believe it is my professional responsibility and moral obligation to use my scholarship and teaching in a socially conscious and committed way, especially now in light of the pandemic, social distancing, immigration issues, and racial tensions.