Archive for Sunday, November 6, 2011

So to speak: KU has high number of language offerings

November 6, 2011


Students taking basic foreign languages at Kansas University aren’t just greeting each other with an “hola” in Spanish or a “bonjour” in French, they’re also saying “pozdrav” in Croatian and “yaxshimusiz” in Uighur.

KU offers nearly 40 languages, a high number for a state university, said LeaMarie Bistak Herron, assistant director of grant development for KU’s Center of Global and International Studies.

That means KU is one of the few places in the country you can take classes in Uighur, for example. That’s pronounced “WEE-gur” by most Americans and “ooey-GHUR” by most Uighurs.

It’s spoken by nearly 10 million people in China’s Xinjiang region in the northwest part of the country.

And, yes, sometimes the number of students interested in taking the language can be rather small, said Mahire Yakup, a native Uighur speaker and linguistics doctoral student who serves in a part-time role as KU’s sole Uighur instructor.

This semester, she’s teaching two students in the basic Uighur course and two students in the intermediate Uighur course.

One of the students studying Uighur this semester is Daniel McCarville, a master’s student studying political science from McCook, Neb.

He got his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and became interested in the Central Asia region.

“I came to KU because they teach Uighur,” he said.

It’s similar to many other languages in the region, including Uzbek and Kyrgyz, so he was interested in getting a leg up on other potential candidates in his desired job field in international economics.

Though in some states, like nearby Missouri, programs with small amounts of degree participants have been targeted for potential cuts, McCarville said he didn’t see a language like Uighur as a potential area of savings for KU.

“Even if it is just two students” in the class, he said, “you’ve got two students with very unusual skills for a very low cost.”

He was also drawn to the language because it’s spoken by a group of people who don’t necessarily wield a lot of political power.

“You have to know how to speak with and understand the everyday person,” he said. “Not the person who’s running the country.”

Many of the languages taught are in demand from the federal government, said Leslie vonHolten, outreach coordinator for KU’s Center for Global and International Studies. She pointed to a BBC article that reported on six Chinese Uighur prisoners who were detained in Guantanamo Bay.

Many of the languages are difficult to find taught in other universities, too, she said. Yakup, the Uighur instructor at KU, said she thought the only other university to offer Uighur in the United States was the University of Indiana.

The languages are supported by KU’s Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center in Wescoe Hall, where students can listen to recordings in a variety of languages, record themselves speaking on tape for class assignments and view lectures from another institution in conference rooms wired for videoconferencing.

The Ermal Garinger center also sponsored a “language buffet” this year for students interested in various languages. Students visited teachers of the many offerings — everything from Korean to Wolof — who gave five-minute presentations that showed off their language and culture.

The center also maintains a website at that has information on all the languages offered at KU.

Taking an esoteric foreign language can pay off, too, for students. KU receives Title VI funding from the federal government’s Department of Education for scholarships for students taking languages that are in demand for reasons like national security.

Undergraduates can earn a one-year fellowship that pays $10,000 for tuition and $5,000 in living expenses, and graduate students can have their entire tuition paid for and receive a $15,000 stipend for living expenses.

“This is a place where KU is grouped with universities like Harvard, Michigan, Berkeley and Indiana,” Herron said.


question4u 6 years, 5 months ago

"Though in some states, like nearby Missouri, programs with small amounts of degree participants have been targeted for potential cuts...."

It's important to emphasize that those programs in Missouri are degree programs, not course offerings. KU doesn't offer a degree in Uighur, nor does it employ any full-time faculty to teach classes in Uighur.

If Daniel McCarville came from Nebraska to an MA program at KU "because they teach Uighur,” then it's definitely a good business decision on the university's part to offer those courses. The out-of-state tuition for one master's student will more than cover the stipend paid to the doctoral student for teaching the courses.

The students get to take the courses that they want for a career in international economics, the doctoral student gets paid to teach the courses, and KU brings in more out-of-state tuition dollars.

kawrivercrow 6 years, 5 months ago

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akhmatova 6 years, 5 months ago

Good luck finding free market options of learning Uyghur, Slovene, or Kyrgyiz.. If you are referring to Rosetta Stone, it's worthless for anything other than the basic levels of language comprehension and use. Academic language instruction may be a bit slower-going at first with the fine points of grammar being taught, but it gives the tools to student to creatively use the language after they learn its morphology and syntax and not just set phrases you would learn with computer programs like Rosetta Stone.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Nearly all degree programs in foreign languages also have study abroad opportunities, where a full-immersion experience is not only possible, but in some cases required, and that's the only real way to gain full fluency in any language. And good instruction in grammar, pronunciation and literacy prior to going there means the student is ready to hit the ground running, rather than spending the first six months just getting the basics out of the way.

Rosetta Stone can't do that.

The_Twelve 6 years, 5 months ago

I certainly agree w/ Akhmatova. One should perhaps take a KU course in one of these languages.... The final goal is to teach communication skills. Speakers who lack grammar skills talk like 4 year olds. Is that the level of education you want to reflect? We must remember that these same courses were the target of Brownback earlier this year--where is the followup to that story? Furthermore, let's all remember that if you actually get proficient in one of these lesser-taught/lesser-known languages, few Kansas companies will hire you. The jobs for these skills are all out of state.

voevoda 6 years, 5 months ago

In fact, many people who study foreign languages want to do a great deal more than hold a casual conversation while playing tourist. They want to be able to read the language at an adult level, discuss business transactions, write grammatical prose, and gain understanding of a foreign culture. In the process, they gain insight into their own language and culture. That is what university courses (or even high school courses) impart to those students who have the patience to study.

Shelley Bock 6 years, 5 months ago

Americans are language deficient. School systems should teach languages in elementary schools so that a high school grad should be conversant in a specific language other than his/her native language. It is the norm for Europeans who attend universities. In some countries, other than England, it is the norm for high school students to be fluent in English, as well as, their native language.

The response might be, "well, they learn English, so why do I have to speak their's". That's great for them. But, having traveled in many Spanish speaking countries, it does wonders when you speak to people in their language. You get the best service and treatment possible, let alone, the correct information necessary to get around.

Last month I was in the Red Lyon Tavern, not in Lawrence, but Islington, England. Had a conversation with an Italian and his French girlfriend. Not in Italian or French, but Spanish. They spoke English, but we settled on Spanish because that was an a 2nd lanugage for all of us. Good time and a free pint of Starsopramen beer. Worth the time studying all those Spanish verbs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 5 months ago

Perhaps those who can't do well in university language courses are just bad students, and prefer to get the false impression that they have actually learned a language through something like Rosetta Stone.

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