UVA Launches Institute of World Languages
The University of Virginia recently kicked off its latest in a series of interdisciplinary programs with the official opening of the Institute of World Languages.
The institute brings together foreign language programs across Grounds to look at best practices in teaching and to take on collaborative research projects with other departments.
For example, administrators are hoping to offer classes in the future combining advanced foreign language instruction with topics in medicine, business or research. Cristina Della Coletta, associate dean for the arts and humanities, used the example of a class about international borders taught in Spanish.
“Language activities cannot be kept intramuros, within four walls,” Coletta said at the opening symposium for the institute.
“We want to provide bridges among our solid departmental homes.”
The university has been encouraging more collaboration between departments, including the establishment of the Big Data Institute, which examines the ethical considerations and practical uses of large-scale data collection. New academic programs incorporate statistics into traditionally “soft” sciences such as sociology. A new Ph.D. program in the School of Architecture includes coursework on social policy and ecology.
The Institute of World Languages also has partnered with Duke University to provide students at both universities the opportunity to learn more obscure languages. Using teleconferencing technology, Duke students will be allowed to take UVa’s course in Tibetan, while UVa students can learn Creole from Duke instructors.
Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, gave the opening remarks to a room full of students in foreign language courses and instructors.
Woo said foreign language study always has been fascinating to her because it forces learners out of their comfort zone, and allows them to connect with people from other cultures.
“Foreign language study forces us to be better than we attempt to be when we’re not watchful,” said Woo, a South Korea native who also has lived in Japan.
“My whole life has been a struggle to communicate with strangers.”
The opening symposium included panel discussions on innovative ways to teach foreign languages and the importance of language literacy in research and scholarly work.
Michael Geisler, a German-language professor and administrator at Middlebury College in Vermont, talked about the need to offer a variety of languages, not just the ones that are seen as “important” or “high-priority” right now. Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, there was a shortage of people fluent in Arabic; it’s hard to tell which languages will become suddenly important, he said.
At the minimum, Geisler said institutions should try to keep classes on a “strategic reserve” of the world’s 10 to 20 most important languages being offered all the time.
“You can assume that if you take a language today, somebody can come back in 20 years and take it again,” he said. “That, to me, is the litmus test.”
Scott McGinnis, professor at the Defense Language Institute, talked about federal programs to reach native speakers of certain critical languages, such as Farsi, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese.
For more information on the institute, visit www.iwl.virginia.edu.
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