[lg policy] Foreign Language Courses, Brushing Up or Immersion

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 27 18:07:59 UTC 2010

August 25, 2010
Foreign Language Courses, Brushing Up or Immersion


THEY may be preparing for a vacation in Europe, trying to communicate
with colleagues abroad or immigrant clients at home or unlocking the
skills, learned in college, that have retreated to an inaccessible
part of the brain. For those aiming to learn a foreign language,
continuing education courses can lead people toward fluency — or at
least help them get by. These days, online programs and CDs like
Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are grabbing the interest of people
attracted by their convenience and relatively low cost. But more
schools are offering their own online-only language courses as part of
extension programs.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, traditional, three-month
language classes cost $480, and online classes cost $550. The online
courses include video lectures, readings, exercises and assignments,
which the instructors can correct and return to the student via
e-mail. Students can practice with one another via chatrooms, and
instructors and students can also talk on the phone to work on
pronunciation, said Krista K. Loretto, program manager for U.C.L.A.

The biggest weakness of the online courses is the conversational
element, Ms. Loretto said, although online students may soon be able
to have real-time conversations thanks to technological advances. The
school also started offering combination online and classroom classes,
which are especially helpful for those who have trouble making time
for a class or live a long way from U.C.L.A., Ms. Loretto said.

Rosetta Stone, too, has gotten in on the classroom act. It does not
consider itself a competitor, but rather a supplement to traditional
language classes, said Cathy Quenzer, the company’s education
director. It provides online courses for college instructors who want
to augment their classroom lessons, she said. Students can learn
through the program’s image-based format at their own pace at home,
“and then come together to share and practice in the classroom,” she

There is no substitute for the traditional language class, with its
emphasis on conversation and human interaction, said Florence
Leclerc-Dickler, chairwoman of the foreign language department at the
New School in New York and an assistant French professor. Online-only
courses are “good for people who are extremely self-disciplined,” Ms.
Leclerc-Dickler said, comparing them to having a treadmill at home,
whereas attending a class is like going to a gym.

The New School offers continuing education courses in 17 languages,
with placement exams available for those not sure how far their rusty
college skills will take them. French is by far the most popular
language, which may reflect its cultural appeal as well as France’s
popularity as a travel destination, Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said. Spanish
is second in popularity, with Arabic, German, Italian and Portuguese
coming next in roughly similar numbers, she said. While the Tibetan
course is offered less frequently, the one to be offered this fall is
full, she said, as was the class in Nepali last spring.

Many classes meet once a week for an hour and 50 minutes and last 13
weeks, at a cost of $590. But Ms. Leclerc-Dickler recognizes that it
can be hard for busy professionals to commit to a set time every week.
That is why she also organizes weekend language immersion courses.
These start on Friday evening and run through Sunday for a total of 14
hours, at a cost of $350. Ellen Golub, a mortgage broker in Manhattan,
took the weekend French class last spring a few weeks before her
vacation in Paris. She called it “a crash course where you learn the

Though she did not come near to mastering French, she said the class,
with its heavy emphasis on conversation, helped her feel more
comfortable doing things like ordering food and navigating the Métro
in Paris. Professionals often take foreign language classes for
personal reasons and enjoyment, Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said. But the
needs of a global economy are also causing more people to learn
languages for work-related purposes, Ms. Loretto said. Being able to
make a presentation in a foreign language, whether in person or
through a teleconference, can give an English-speaking employee a
serious edge, she said. Foreign languages are also very useful for
workers who interact with immigrants, she said.

Ms. Loretto said Spanish had long been the most popular language at
U.C.L.A. Extension, but she said that demand for Mandarin had been
growing every year, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being
neck and neck with Spanish in popularity.” Extension offerings often
reflect the needs of the surrounding community. Los Angeles has a
large Korean population, and court officials have found Korean classes
valuable in helping them to communicate with those who pass through
the court system, Ms. Loretto said.  Valentina Zaitseva, who teaches
at the University of Washington, has had among her students medical
professionals who treat Seattle’s large Russian community.

In addition to traditional classes, she teaches a summer course that
packs a year’s worth of Russian language study into two intensive
months. Now she is teaching a summer interdisciplinary class in Sochi,
site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, in partnership with Sochi State
University. Although many of her summer intensive students take her
class to obtain credits toward a degree, some are professionals who
may want to develop and maintain business contacts in Russia, she says
— forming a contrast to others who mainly want to read authors like
Dostoyevsky in the original Russian.

NYTimes, 8/26/10


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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