Study abroad boosts students’ interest in foreign language

Students pursue independent study in a second or third language

Students pursue independent study in a second or third language

Winter Quarter is a period of limbo at the University of Denver, when Juniors return from Study Abroad while Sophomores are selecting where they will be the coming fall. The travel bug is certainly biting and giving students itchy feet, but have any tongues been tickled by linguistics?

The ability to communicate effectively in a second or even third language has become increasingly important in our globalized world. DU students are coming to see the value such knowledge will bring to their professional and personal lives.

This is evident in the facts behind Pioneers studying abroad in locations where English is not the lingua franca, so to speak.

Learning to talk in a foreign tongue

According to a survey conducted by the Office of International Education during Fall Quarter of 2012, 48% of students mention language acquisition as a very important reason for choosing to study abroad.

“Spanish is definitely the most popular,” says Dr. Luc Beaudoin, Director of the OIE, “Italian and French follow up in total numbers.”

This isn’t surprising, given that the majority of DU students complete their language requirements by studying one of these three languages. Just three quarters of elementary language classes satisfies the requirement for most majors.

However, “We don’t like to send our students abroad without a foundation of two years of college-level study,” says Dr. Victor Castellani, Chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures. “This is especially true for ‘slow learning’ languages, like Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian”.

Although, Dr. Beaudoin says that these smaller, “slow-learning” language programs see “a high proportion of students going abroad to study the language, up to 100% of students”.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is that students have this foundation before going abroad,” says Dr. M. Kathleen Mahnke, Director of the Center for World Languages and Cultures.

“Students want to understand their environment, and they can’t do that if they can’t communicate,” she explains. “Otherwise, you’re a tourist”.

Tailored programs for lesser-taught languages

This is exactly the issue that Dr. Mahnke and the rest of the faculty at the CWLC attempt to combat by providing supplemental instruction beyond the traditional language classes offered by the Department of Languages and Literatures.

One of the first programs offered by the CWLC came from a request for foundational language instruction for students involved in the International Service Learning Bosnia and Herzegovina program. Students in this program intern with grass-roots non-profit organizations in Bosnia for ten weeks during the summer, often working alongside staff with limited English.

Dr. Mahnke explains that students would go for the travel and work experience, but return to DU and ask for language classes in Bosnian so that they could better serve the people with whom they work directly throughout the length of the program.

Now, students admitted to the ISL Bosnia-Herzegovina program take a Bosnian class during the Spring Quarter before their trip. It is one of the modules for the CWLC’s Face-to-Face program.

DU Junior studies Japanese before going abroad next fall

DU Junior studies Japanese before going abroad next fall

Face-to-Face offers small classes in languages not offered by the Department of Languages and Literatures. Native speakers teach the classes. The CWLC has offered such classes in Bosnian, Hindi, and Tibetan. So far, these courses have all been linked with ISL programs, so students may better understand and serve the communities they visit.

Excluding ISL programs, Dr. Beaudoin reports 10% of students opting to study in locations where the local language is not covered by the Department of Languages and Literatures.

“If we don’t teach the language at DU then there isn’t a [language] requirement, although students are encouraged to work with the CWLC to study the language before leaving for their time overseas,” he says.

The CWLC also provides Directed Independent Language Study in Korean, Swahili and Portuguese.

DILS classes are individual classes in which any DU student can apply to study one of the languages on offer for credit. The CWLC supplies the syllabus, a book list, and a support system of three language “coaches”, including a conversations partner, an examiner, and Dr. Mahnke herself.

The CWLC is keen to hear from students wanting to learn less commonly taught languages. If at least 10 students express interest in learning a language, then the CWLC will begin work on developing a program for its instruction.

“If students ask, we make it happen,” says Dr. Mahnke.

One language, two language, three language, more

What may be most remarkable is students’ enthusiasm for language once they return to DU.

The CWLC sees more students visiting its free language tutors (offered in Spanish, French, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Russian, and German) in the month of January than during Fall Quarter. Dr. Mahnke marks it down to study abroad returnees eager to keep up with the language they’ve acquired.

“Students come back excited about travel,” says Dr. Castellani. “They’re raring to get back out there to use [the language] and to learn it”.

Take Tory Rust for example. Tory is a Junior at DU pursuing a degree in communications while building a career as a professional photographer. In the future, she hopes to work in fashion.

Tory spent last fall in Madrid earning credits towards her Spanish minor. Having gained greater fluency in that language, she’s returned to Denver with a plan to study French.

Dr. Castellani would identify Tory as a student who returns to campus wanting to do more with language after having seen how much more they can do with language while abroad.  In this regard, study abroad is an encouraging experience for budding linguists like Tory.

“I feel like I know Spanish well enough now that it won’t confuse me to study French as well, it can only help me,” says Tory.

Since there are no introductory language classes offered in Winter Quarter at DU, Tory has enrolled in a Saturday morning beginner’s course at Alliance Française Denver.

Tory enjoys the class because she wanted to learn the language at a less intense pace than a traditional academic course. It is conversation based, which makes lessons more lively and helps the information to stick, according to Tory. Also, she’s glad there’s no concern about her grappling a new language having adverse effects on her GPA.

Most of all, she’s having fun.

When asked why she’s learning French, like any future fashion photographer Tory says that she’d love to work in Paris.

“Or Milan,” she adds, “so maybe I’ll learn Italian, too, one day”.

Ultimately, she says, “I don’t want to be limited”. She believes acquiring language will open doors.

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