Through the center, a global leader in the field of instruction in less commonly taught languages, students study independently using a combination of texts, digital audio and video software, Web-based instructional sites, and weekly conversation practice sessions led by the conversation partners. Professors accredited in the target languages give oral exams.
The center has proved of great help to Adriana Mirarchi '03, who is majoring in psychology and French West African studies and spent her junior year in Senegal, West Africa, through the College's program at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop. Fluent in French by the time she left for Senegal, she studied Wolof, the country's primary language, during the year she was there. Planning to pursue a master's degree in public health upon graduation and intending to return one day to Africa to work for a nongovernmental health-related agency, Mirarchi not only wanted to continue studying Wolof during her senior year, she needed to focus on medical vocabulary. The center provided her with a text, a manual used by Peace Corps volunteers being sent to Senegal, online resources, and a conversation partner, Senegal native Safietou Sagna '03. The two end each of their weekly sessions by performing the Senegalese equivalent of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," so that Mirarchi can learn the words for body parts.
"It has been great
to be able to continue studying Wolof through the center," says
Mirarchi, who now feels comfortable with basic conversation in
the language and is learning medical terms. Sagna, who speaks
seven languages, says the program is "a good way to learn. I give
Adriana tips she wouldn't learn from a book."
The center was founded in the late 1980s as a research and development center for teaching foreign languages using technology. It was so popular with Five College faculty that the colleges used it as a prototype and began opening centers on their own campuses. The Five College center shifted its focus to developing and offering programs, using technology to teach less commonly taught languages.
"Since texts and
accompanying materials for these languages were few and far between,
and we had the technology and resources to create them, we started
to do it," says center director Elizabeth Mazzocco, Five College
associate professor of Italian. The center also began its program
of linking students with native speakers who were studying at
Five College institutions. In addition to serving as language
partners, many of these students, when they return home for the
summer, shoot digital videos that provide valuable exposure to
the practical aspects of daily life in their native countries.
The videos, which are unscripted and reflect authentic linguistic
usage, including local dialects, colloquial grammar, and figures
of speech, are particularly useful for students going to a country
for the first time.
Over the last five years, the center has received more than $1 million in grants from the departments of defense and education and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and has continued to expand and develop new programs. This year, a class in intensive elementary Swahili was offered for the first time, utilizing a classroom-based, multimedia language study approach to offer instruction to students at multiple campuses simultaneously. In April, the center received a $535,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to expand its offerings.