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BYU's language studies: More than 60 languages offered

Program is one of the largest in the nation

PROVO, UTAH

Marhaba. Hallo. Ciao. Konichiwa. Ni hao. Ola. Zdravstvujtye. Hola. Namaste.

Hearing greetings like this can almost make people think that they are walking through a marketplace in a foreign country instead of a college campus in Utah. In a five-minute walk from class to class on the BYU campus, it is possible to hear languages spoken from all over the world.

BYU has one of the largest language programs in the nation with more than 60 languages offered regularly. Studies from BYU say that 77 percent of BYU students report they speak a second language.

In addition to returned missionaries coming to BYU able to speak languages at advanced levels, the six percent of all students who are international play a part in the large language program.

BYU students Matt McDonald, James Miller and Jordan McKee play games and study in the Russian House in the foreign language student residences at BYU.
BYU students Matt McDonald, James Miller and Jordan McKee play games and study in the Russian House in the foreign language student residences at BYU. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

"Our goal is to offer advanced courses in every language spoken by returned missionaries on campus," said Ray T. Clifford, associate dean of the College of Humanities and director of the Center for Language Studies.

With many different languages offered and the diversity of students, it makes sense that almost 31 percent of the student body is enrolled in a language course each semester. The national average pales in comparison, sitting around nine percent.

According to the BYU Center for Language Studies, more than 90 percent of the returned missionaries at BYU who speak a second language possess advanced speaking skills. This number compares to the 47 percent of 500 language majors tested at five major Liberal Arts colleges.

"We offer more advanced language classes than any university in the United States," Brother Clifford said. "It gives students the opportunity to develop skills to a level that is useful beyond tourist activities."

A new program implemented last September enables students to certify their language proficiency and have it included on their college transcript.

Gabriel Hess, left, Adeline Pichot and Michael Voge visit the buffet for dinner in the French House.
Gabriel Hess, left, Adeline Pichot and Michael Voge visit the buffet for dinner in the French House. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

The language certificate program is available in 10 languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

To earn the certificate, students, usually are language majors or minors, take three classes in culture, language and literature, and demonstrate language proficiency by passing a standardized test.

The language programs are continually growing with more languages available each year. To add a new language to be taught at BYU, three elements need to be in place: student interest, quality professors and sufficient funding.

Several language classes recently offered for the first time, or due to begin soon, include Cambodian, Laotian, Swahili and Hindi.

Caroline Sorensen, left, and Danielle Stanford practice their French during dinner in the French House.
Caroline Sorensen, left, and Danielle Stanford practice their French during dinner in the French House. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

In addition to classroom training, BYU has several programs through which students can supplement their language learning. These include opportunities at the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, or living in the Foreign Language Student Residence.

David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies

The David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies hosts one of the largest study abroad programs in the nation, with 166 programs in 54 countries.

Spanish House residents eat dinner together on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah.  Eating together provides students an opportunity to speak the language and practice in a no-stress, non-classroom environment.
Spanish House residents eat dinner together on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah. Eating together provides students an opportunity to speak the language and practice in a no-stress, non-classroom environment. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

"In 2009 we had students studying on every continent, except Antarctica," said Cory W. Leonard, assistant director.

With the opportunity to be instructed in new languages and learn about cultures of different places in the world, many students take advantage of opportunities offered to travel and use their language skills.

Enos Ledezma, left, and Adam Gonzales visit as they join other students for a meal in the Spanish House.
Enos Ledezma, left, and Adam Gonzales visit as they join other students for a meal in the Spanish House. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

"The Church is an international church, so the perspective of the members, leaders and students reaching outward plays a role in the vast work of the Kennedy center," Brother Leonard said. "Our goal for any student, in any major, is to 'Expand Your World.'‚ÄČ"

A second goal of the Kennedy center is to make international cultural experiences affordable for more students. If they have a long-term vision, students can sacrifice, save money and prepare for an experience to learn and grow abroad.

Brother Leonard spoke of the quality of international study experiences and the lasting effects that they have on a student.

"Study Abroad, and other similar experiences, will carry all through a student's life," Brother Leonard said. "It will not only carry through their own life, it will also shape the lives of their family."

There are many kinds of living abroad experiences including field studies, internships, study abroad and even completing teaching practicum hours. All programs are driven by faculty expertise and student interest.

Foreign Language Student Residence

Living abroad is not an option for everyone, so BYU offers a way that students can experience immersion language learning without moving to Paris, Rome or Berlin.

BYU has a Foreign Language Student Residence program where students can enhance their study of a language by living in immersion housing where all apartment occupants speak only the language of study while at home.

Foreign Language Student Residences at BYU enhance learning experience beyond the classroom.
Foreign Language Student Residences at BYU enhance learning experience beyond the classroom. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

The FLSR program began in 1978 with three off-campus houses dedicated to the in-depth study of Russian and Italian. The on-campus FLSR complex is now home to 150 students living in 25 apartments who work to enhance their language skills in one of eight languages.

"It is a language laboratory where residents are sure to discover new aspects of cultures besides their own," said Hans-Wilhelm Kelling, professor of German and director of the Foreign Language Student Residence. "In only a short time, most students show a significant increase in language proficiency and confidence in their abilities."

Language housing is available for single students who want to study Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish, with other languages available with sufficient interest.

Each apartment has five students studying the language, as well as a native speaker who functions as a resident facilitator. Each facilitator is given a housing scholarship for his or her work with the FLSR program.

Each night the language houses dine together and take turns cooking for the group of 20-30 students. It is a time for them to cook together, eat together and speak the language together in a no-stress, non-classroom environment.

"I think it is one of the best-administered language programs in the United States," Brother Kelling said. "A large part of its success is because of the support of the board of trustees."

The students living in the FLSR make up an entire ward in one of the BYU single-student stakes. They meet in the common building and attend Sunday School classes in each of the studied languages, but are all together for sacrament meeting and priesthood/Relief Society meetings in English.

The only exception to the 'no-speaking English rule' is when the home teachers come over. When students talk on the phone to family or have study groups they are encouraged to go outside, to the library, or to the English-allowed common room.

Many of the students living in the FLSR are not learning their first new language; many are on to their third or fourth.

One couple dated last semester while living in the FLSR. Now engaged, they switched languages this semester so that they could learn the second and third language of the other.

Some students living in the FLSR are learning the language for the first time, some learned it on missions and want to keep their fluency, while others spent time living in foreign countries as youth and want to re-visit the language.

Caroline Sorensen, a mechanical engineering major from Boston, Mass., chose to live in the French House of the FLSR in order to keep the French with her that she learned while living in France years ago.

"As an engineering major, I thought it might be hard to balance school, the commitment of living here, and other aspects of my life," she said. "But it has not been too hard and is a great opportunity to keep up my fluency in French."

With enough languages able to pique anyone's interest, BYU strives to give opportunities to students to step into another culture without leaving campus.

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