Christina Frei

Executive Director of Language Instruction for the School of Arts & Sciences

Undergraduate Chair, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Academic Director, Penn Language Center; Adjunct Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education

714 Williams Hall
By appointment
(215) 898-5573
CV (file):


Ph.D., University of California at Davis in German with designated emphases in Second Language Aquisition and Feminist Theory and Research


Christina Frei specializes in constructivist curriculum design, intercultural communication, and diverse applications of technology for teaching and learning world languages and cultures. She regularly offers a course in Second Language Development (GRMN 516/EDU 670) and her signature course German Crime Novels (GRMN  352). In addition, she directs all courses in the two-year German language and culture program. In Spring 2020, she is teaching EDUC670, a graduate course on theories of SLD methodology and best practices for foreign language education. Furthermore, she is offering GRMN301 Handschrift to Hypertext, a course in German about Bildungsbürgertum and cultural literary production for German minors and majors.  

In her capacity as Executive Director of Language Instruction for the School of Arts & Sciences, she oversees language Instruction and the language education community across SAS, The Wharton Business School/Lauder Institute MBA/MA program, College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS), The Educational Linguistics Division of The Graduate School of Education and The School of Engineering and Applied Science. Thus, she is involved in sustained quality of language and culture instruction for more than 42 languages taught at Penn. She is also a member of the Online Learning Faculty Advisory Committee and a board member of the Weingarten Learning Center. 

As part of the new Bachelor of Applied Science degree in LPS, she is designing and preparing a required online course "Intercultural Communication" that will be offered for the first time in Spring 2020.  This course will begin language preparation at LPS and seeks to offer students a foundation for understanding the intricate and complex relationship between language, culture, and communicative practices.

Frei also chairs the Penn Language Center, home of many less commonly taught languages at Penn. In her role as educational leader she secured several grants: NEH, Fulbright and STARTALK. With the support of the Department of Education and the Institute for International Education (IIE), Frei conceptualizes and directs the summer leadership institute and the Fulbright pre-semester orientation for foreign language teaching assistants. Currently, the PLC is working with indigenous communities in North- and South America in a sustained commitment to offering indigenous language and knowledge system courses at the University of Pennsylvania. The PLC, secured a NEH grant for the EPIC initiative: Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities in collaboration with the late Dr. Timothy Powell. The grant aims to collaborate with tribal scholars and language educators to create sustained approaches to the teaching of language and culture based on indigenous knowledge systems.

Tribal partners: 

Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians,

NC, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (Ojibwe), MN, 

Six Nations Polytechnic (Iroquois), Ontario, 

Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock reservation, ND, 

and Tuscarora Nation, NY.

Frei is co-authoring a textbook for introductory/intermediate German language and culture: Augenblicke, German through Film, Media and Texts soon to be available through the AATG Store. As a content-based textbook firmly situated in the National Standards, Augenblicke responds to several recent changes in language education. First, Augenblicke’s systematic and contextualized language, culture, and grammar progression is structured around six themes essential to the 21st-century learner: national identity, multilingualism, technologies, citizenship, environmentalism, and artistic representations. This theme-based curriculum piques learner interest by encouraging students to reflect and build upon their background knowledge. Second, authentic media and literary materials serve as the logical context choice to guide language instruction. News reports, podcasts, television clips, feature-length film excerpts, literary excerpts, internet sites, and graphs prompt students’ interest and motivate them to meaningfully engage with their own language acquisition and production. Third, Augenblicke focuses on the three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational), which places the audience at the center of all communication and encourages learners to make thoughtful choices regarding their language production. Lastly, Augenblicke’s process-based grammar and vocabulary progression encourages students to develop a fine eye and ear for grammatical paradigms while bolstering their communicative and symbolic competencies. These core features of Augenblicke embed language learning within genre-specific, authentic, and culturally relevant contexts and foster students’ language education with the ultimate goal in mind: effective communication.

Frei received two national teaching awards recognizing her contributions to Language and Teacher Education: The 2017 AATG Outstanding German Educator Award and the 2017 ACTFL-NYSAFLT Anthony Papalia Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. As the regional director of the 2017 Lauder Europe Summer Program, she accompanied a group of graduate students to Belgium, France, Switzerland, Poland, and Germany. This intensive three-week course explored political, economic, historic, and institutional dimensions of Europe and the region, where students experienced, synthesized, analyzed, and evaluated topics addressing the complexities of the European Union and particularly European expansion. In addition, she offered the graduate course "Curriculum Design for Teaching German as a Foreign Language" at the 2018 Middlebury Summer Language School. Indeed, teaching represents the most immediate and rewarding venue of combining research projects, application of technology and language education. She received the 2010 SAS Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching by Affiliated Faculty describing her dynamic classroom presence as mesmerizing. "The intensity of her presence and strategic appeal of her pedagogy engulf the students in a world of German language and culture, in which they feel fortified and challenged."

Furthermore, Frei designed and implemented the curriculum of the language program at the Freie Universität Berlin international Summer and Winter University (FUBiS), the department's summer study-abroad venue and contributes regularly to curricular innovations at Penn's College of Liberal and Professional Studies and the Middlebury Language School.

Projects also include research in the affordances and efficacy of theme-based and constructivist curricular design for post-secondary language education. See her co-authored articles “Teaching Perspectives: Intercultural Development at All Levels” in The Language Educator, Jan/Feb 2018 and "Implications of the AP World Language Curriculum for University Language Programs" in AAUSC Volume 17, 2016.

Research Interests

Second language acquisition, curriculum design, digital pedagogy