The Institute of World Language at the University hosted a language symposium to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the Newcomb Ballroom and Lounge Thursday. With their theme, “Looking Back, Moving Forward,” the symposium intended to recognize the collaborative learning efforts between faculty and students across language disciplines and reflect upon what the institute has accomplished thus far.
IWL was initially launched with money from donors and organized by a committee of department chairs as well as language professionals, and now is supported by annual state funding. Their aim is to support the 4,045 students at the University who are currently enrolled in language courses in their journey to become linguistically proficient and culturally competent global citizens.
Miao-fen Tseng, inaugural director of the IWL and East Asian Language Literature and Cultures professor at the University, is now entering her 10th year in this role after being selected in August 2014.
“[The IWL] brings both languages and cultures to the forefront of our educational mission,” Tseng said. “It promotes innovative activities, innovative collaboration for research, instruction and outreach activities in language and culture of course departments and disciplines.”
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the symposium consisted of three different panel discussion sessions, with topics ranging from innovative pedagogical techniques and resources from current language professors to reflections on the student experience from alumni who talked about the influence of their language learning journey on their lives after leaving the University.
After the panel presentations, attendees were invited to Newcomb Lounge to discover different language stations with interactive activities, food and cultural products, in total representing over 20 languages. Attendees were encouraged to visit each table to learn more about the language and cultures taught at the University. Faculty shared cultural foods, highlighted opportunities for study abroad and had student volunteers speaking to their experiences in each respective department.
Senior Lecturer Bilal Maanaki was one of the representatives of the Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures Department at their station in Newcomb Lounge. After teaching Arabic for the past 12 years, he is interested in the lesser known cognitive benefits of studying a foreign language.
“It increases your brain agility because you are creating a new path in the brain and this way, you are changing the way you think,” Maanaki said. “The most important thing for the students to understand is that learning a new language will improve their mental health, their mental agility and better neuroplasticity”.
Maanaki also appreciates the IWL’s efforts to improve the foreign language faculty experience in addition to the student experience.
“By joining faculty from different languages and sharing their own projects and sharing their ideas, that will improve each other's way of teaching and thinking about how best to approach grammar, vocabulary, conversation… It exposes the beauty of learning about other cultures and languages,” Maanaki said.
This collaborative nature influences the student experience in the classroom, creating a common culture of comfort, enthusiasm and personal connections across each language discipline, often due to engaging professors and the intimacy of small-sized classes.
Ariel Eskridge, a student volunteer at the Japanese table and third-year College student, started taking Japanese her first year, originally just to fulfill the language requirement . She credits the smaller class settings and the personability of her professors in the department for helping her pursue a double major in Japanese and Foreign Affairs.
“The professors are all just so kind, and at U.Va. because it's such a big school, it can be kind of difficult to make connections with professors,” Eskridge said. “But in the Japanese department, it's definitely a lot easier and I just feel like the people I work with genuinely care about me… People genuinely want to learn and the professor genuinely wants to teach.”
The option to learn a foreign language can open many doors according to Eskridge, since learning Japanese was a completely new and different experience from other educational opportunities she’s had before.
“I come from a really rural community where there's not a lot of opportunity to learn new languages or be exposed to any different cultures,” Eskridge said. “I thought [that] being at U.Va. would give me a really good opportunity to get that kind of exposure and I know that I couldn't learn Japanese back home.”
Likewise, second-year College students Maddie Mark and Hunter Blosser praised their experiences in the Latin program, telling students why they should consider taking a Latin class while at the University.
Mark emphasized the importance of Latin’s interdisciplinary nature, where she’s been able to learn about the history of Ancient Rome in addition to the grammar rules after translating texts from that era for class. On the other hand, Blosser mentioned how the small class environment has made it possible for him to make friends in his classes, and that comradery motivates him to keep pursuing Latin, even when it’s difficult.
“The professors I've had are really nice and they genuinely want you to succeed,” Blosser said.
“I haven’t had a class of over 40 people, so you really get a lot of one on one time… Everyone is kind of in the same boat. We're all learning it together, which is really fun.”
First-year College student Dani Angarita and fourth-year College student Sarah Sinjh-Sanchez volunteered at the symposium for the Portuguese booth. Although they are both native Spanish speakers, they decided to also study Portuguese while at the University.
Angarita highlighted how the IWL makes an effort to offer languages that are overlooked or not often taught in University language departments.
“I grew up speaking Spanish and I was wanting to take it here, but then I saw Portuguese… I've never seen this being offered anywhere [else],” Angarita said.
Ten years of the IWL have allowed students and faculty to enjoy the study of foreign languages across departments. As new initiatives develop, students and faculty alike continue to imagine the expansive capabilities of foreign language studies in the academic life of the University for the next ten years and beyond.