The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVII, Issue 41
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
August 23, 2002

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin

 Page One Grain & Chaff Obituaries Letters to the Chronicle Archives Feedback Weekly Bulletin




Five Colleges awarded grant for teaching
African languages

By Carol Angus, special to the Chronicle

F ive Colleges, Inc. has received a year-long grant of $75,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to test two new models for language instruction to be developed by the Five College Center for the Study of World Languages, formerly known as the Five College Foreign Language Resource Center.

     Focusing on the teaching of several African languages, the pilot project employs innovative applications of technology to make more accessible the learning of languages less commonly taught but more in demand as people increasingly travel, study, and work abroad in countries other than those of Western Europe. It also complements a number of initiatives currently underway in African Studies at the five colleges, including a new African Scholars Program being funded by a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

     One of the prototypes will provide Web-based instructional sites for three languages spoken in areas where American students are most likely to study in Africa: Twi (spoken in Ghana); Wolof (spoken in Senegal); and another language to be determined by demand. Building on techniques developed through the center's award-winning program of supervised independent language study (SILP), the new Web-based sites aim to make learning languages such as these more accessible and more convenient by putting online the core study components - language materials (drills, videos, exercises, etc.), study plans, and relevant links. Depending on the availability of language specialists and conversation partners in the target languages, learners may take oral exams and engage in weekly conversations live or in video conferencing format.

     The second model uses a classroom-based, multimedia language study approach to offer instruction to students at multiple campuses simultaneously. Multimedia language study (MMLS) combines several components to help students learn a less-commonly taught language: video-conferencing, language instructors, native-speaking conversation partners, and Web-based syllabi complete with virtual lab. Using this format, the center plans to offer a semester of beginning, intensive Swahili to students at the five colleges in the coming year.

     A number of recent developments make both of these language learning models timely according to the center's director, Elizabeth Mazzocco, associate professor in French and Italian Studies. An increasing awareness about other cultures, compounded by the new global economy, she believes, is fueling a demand at the college level for languages previously available only in graduate study. In response to this shift, the center recently changed its name to reflect its new focus on the teaching of less-commonly taught languages.

     The choice of African languages for the center's inaugural effort is a reflection of the strong presence of African Studies within the consortium. Currently, more than 30 members of the faculty at the five colleges teach courses on Africa. Many of them, Mazzocco notes, are actively engaged with the development of the new Five College African Scholars Program being funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The chief goal of this program, which brings young scholars here from Africa for extended visits of up to 10 months, is to furnish these visiting scholars with the support they need to complete their research and prepare it for publication. "But our students are also traveling to Africa in increasing numbers these days, to study, to work," observes Mazzocco, "and the best preparation we can give them is to enrich their study of Africa with the study of the languages spoken there."

     One of the biggest issues in undertaking to teach languages such as Swahili, Maz-zocco says, is "how to deliver cost-effectively a high quality learning experience." The MMLS model, which combines the most successful elements of self instruction with technological advances such as video conferencing, will enable students at five campuses to "take a class" in beginning Swahili without having to leave their home campuses. And, instead of five instructors all teaching introductory Swahili to a handful of students at each of the five campuses, one instructor will serve students at all five colleges.

     Access and convenience are also key factors, Mazzocco believes, in attracting people to learn less-commonly taught languages such as Hindi, Arabic, and those spoken in African countries. Here again, the new technology coupled with students' fluency in using multimedia, she points out, "now make it possible to pursue language study that can be accessed on the Internet from a dorm room, a language lab, a home, or an office."

     Ultimately, both models of language instruction will be made available on the Internet for adoption by other colleges and universities.

Carol Angus is director of Information and Publications at Five Colleges, Inc.

  UMass Logo This Web site is an Official Publication of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is maintained by the Web Development Group of the Division of Communications & Marketing. © 2002