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College increases language offerings

Kelly Davis | Friday, September 12, 2008

In today’s progressive world, understanding diverse cultures and languages is becoming increasingly significant. Saint Mary’s has acknowledged this by offering two new languages – Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.

“We’ve added the languages to remain true to our mission of preparing the next generation of intercultural leaders,” Modern Languages Department Chair Renee Kingcaid said. “These are important languages, in which, compared to the languages of Western Europe and Latin America, relatively few Americans are fluent.”

Saint Mary’s students are required to take two semesters of language, which can be fulfilled with French, Spanish, Italian, German and now Chinese or Arabic. Only one year of the new additions are offered now, but the department hopes to keep building and offer a second year soon.

“The whole world is changing,” Chinese professor and assistant director of Global Education Alice Siqin Yang said. “Chinese and Arabic are now very important for intercultural communication and understanding and for international business.”

Yang’s Chinese class has 10 students in its first semester. Some chose to take the language to get in touch with Asian backgrounds while others felt knowledge of Chinese language and culture would be beneficial to their major and future careers.

Although learning Chinese is different than other languages because it is pictographic, Yang said students are “very interested and motivated to learn.”

Kingcaid, who sits in on the class, said, “you’re learning an entirely different sound system, an entirely different writing system and you need to have a lot of practice in them before you even begin to use sentences.”

Sophomore Julie Hagopian, a history major and advertising and marketing minor, said she feels taking Chinese will help her with future overseas business endeavors and expand her “studies of the past.”

“As a musically inclined person, the accents aren’t too difficult,” Hagopian said. “And the radicals, or symbols, are just an extension of my natural need to doodle.”

Chinese students also focus on the unique culture and customs of China. One method Yang used to showcase China’s individuality and intensity was with the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics which she showed in class.

Like Chinese, Arabic is also very different from Western Languages, professor Heather Jones said. She teaches 15 students in her new class.

Arabic consists of a 28-letter, 18-shape alphabet that is written right to left. It is spoken across the Middle East and North Africa in various dialects and is the language of the Qur’an.

“Across the country Chinese and Arabic are the fastest-growing languages in terms of student interest and enrollment,” said Kingcaid. “We wanted to be able to attract students to the College by offering them as well.” 

The department also said they hope to work closely with Notre Dame, which already offers courses in Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, to continue expanding language programs and opportunities for students.