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December 6, 2011

A Focus on Global Education: Lafayette Is Expanding Its Language Offerings in Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic

Earlier this year, Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to campus celebrated the “groundbreaking” of Lafayette’s planned Oechsle Center for Global Education. His visit and the new center are two of many steps the College is taking to integrate global education throughout the curriculum, including a significantly revised major in international affairs and more opportunities to study abroad.

Alison Finn '14, who received a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, also studied in Turkey.

Alison Finn '14, who received a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, also studied in Turkey.

Another way the College is enhancing its dedication to global education is by expanding foreign language offerings, particularly such nontraditional ones as Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.

Japanese has been taught at Lafayette since 1985, and Chinese since 2007. The Chinese program was enhanced with the addition of a full-time professor in 2010—Li Yang, assistant professor of Chinese—and a Fulbright teaching assistant from China, Qian Wang. Yang notes that 30 students are taking courses in Chinese, and a May interim course will be offered in China. Plans are underway for a minor in the language.

Kelley Reslewic ’12 (Highland Mills, N.Y.), an international affairs major, took three semesters of Mandarin Chinese on campus. She then completed the semester-long IES Beijing Language Intensive program at Beijing Foreign Studies University in China, a Lafayette-affiliated program.

“Speaking Chinese is becoming an increasingly important and relevant skill for Westerners to have,” she says, “My study of the language and culture will pay off greatly. After I finish law school, I plan to use both my legal training and Chinese language skills, which I think is a pretty unique and valuable combination.”

Today, global companies are looking for “worldliness” and highly developed communication skills. “Several semesters of a language and cultural studies as well as an immersion experience of living, studying, and working closely with people who speak another language are sufficient to tip the scales in a job candidate’s or graduate student’s favor,” says Sidney Donnell, associate professor and head of foreign languages and literatures.

As a result of strong student interest, a pilot course in Arabic began last spring semester. The Guided Independent Language Studies (GLS) program was organized by Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, and Mary Toulouse, director of the Foreign Languages and Literatures Resource Center.

In the self-instructional course, students create an e-portfolio to record and monitor their work. They learn conversational and written Arabic through multimedia components, supplemented with conversation and grammar tutors.

A native Arabic speaker, Yohannes Seyum ’14 grew up in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. He took the course to improve his writing skills and was a conversation partner for beginning students.

“The course provided me with a strong foundation for my study of the language and is important to my plans to work in national security or the intelligence field,” says Jessica Aston ’11, a government and law graduate. “I developed my writing skills and was lucky to have the chance to study with two students who speak Arabic, enabling me to learn dialectical differences between regions.”

Meanwhile, Alison Finn ’12 (Oswego, N.Y.), a history and religious studies double major, studied Arabic this summer through an Arabic-immersion program at University of Wisconsin-Madison, funded by the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship she received from the U.S. Department of Education.

Lafayette’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures offers majors and minors in French, German, and Spanish, as well as a minor in Russian. Greek, Latin, and modern Hebrew also are taught.

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