Monday, March 17, 2014

The Languages Less Traveled By: New program in LAS promotes learning in the lesser taught languages

Ercan Balci is an EUC-affiliated faculty member. Since 2003, the European Union Center has also provided substantial support out of our US Department of Education Title VI grants towards instruction of European Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) programs as described in the article below. 

This article was originally posted in the March 2014 College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Newsletter.

by Dave Evensen

The Less Commonly Taught Languages Program offers classes
in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Modern Greek, Persian, Swahili, Turkish,
Uzbek, and Wolof. About 400 students are enrolled in the
program every semester
Certain languages—Spanish, French, and German, to name a few—are mainstays in foreign language education in the United States. In the College of LAS, however, a small group called the Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) Program is preparing students for the reality that other languages are also key to success in an increasingly interconnected world.

It is an ambitious task. Though the LCTL program encompasses the native tongues of more than 800 million people, hard work is required to convince American students that learning Arabic, Hindi, or Swahili, for example, can be just as worthy of their time as learning Spanish. With organization and collaboration, the new program is making headway.

Housed in the Department of Linguistics, LCTL was formally named a program this academic year. For the past several years instructors in the department have advocated for less commonly taught languages, but they felt that a more organized approach was necessary. They hope that the higher profile of a new program will help them move their efforts forward more effectively.

“We felt the need to work together, to collaborate,” says Ercan Balci, senior lecturer and director of the Turkish Language Program and LCTL. “It was a little committee at first, and then with the efforts of the lecturers and the head of the linguistics department it turned into a program. We felt that if it is a program, with a director, then there is a mission, and we can work closely together to achieve these goals.”

Today, LCTL offers classes in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Modern Greek, Persian, Swahili, Turkish, Uzbek, and Wolof. About 400 students are enrolled in LCTL every semester, Balci says, with about 150 of them studying Arabic, 100 studying Swahili, and the other 150 spread throughout the other languages.

LCTL’s offerings aren’t the only “less commonly” taught languages in the College of LAS. Aside from Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, which have their own departments (Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese are currently in the same department), there are many other languages taught on campus. LCTL is one of the more organized language programs, however.

'Although these languages are different,
they actually help you have a unique career because
they are not learned by every student,' Ercan Balci,
irector of the LCTL program, says.
The program has six lecturers and employs 10 teaching assistants across all nine languages. Students can earn minors in Arabic studies, Hindi studies, and Sub-Saharan African languages, which are the three most popular offerings in the program, and Balci says they are planning to add minors in Greek, Turkish, and Persian. LCTL offers at least three years of instruction in all nine languages, with a fifth year offered in Arabic.

Students can study abroad through the program. On campus, they can participate in film series, discussion tables, and other events. LCTL also offers an intensive summer study program, called Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World, where students can earn a year of credit through an eight-week course.

LCTL’s funding comes largely by way of its partnerships with campus area study centers, through which come the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI grants for university language and international programs. Some 15-20 LCTL students per year also receive a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship from the Department of Education, Balci says.

Balci adds that the program welcomes other funding sources, as the Title VI funding varies depending on Congressional budget negotiations in Washington, D.C. They’ve been forced to reduce language offerings in the past due to drops in federal funding, Balci says.

A campus without less commonly taught languages, he says, would be a mistake. Languages that are uncommon in the United States are much more common elsewhere, and a student hoping to launch a career or pursue some other endeavor could go a long way by being proficient in a language that’s a little out of the mainstream, Balci says.

“Although these languages are different, they actually help you have a unique career because they are not learned by every student,” he says. “And most of these languages are critical when you think about it—for example, if you want to work for the federal government. So this program will help you get ahead.”

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