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MSU granted $1.2 million to teach less-common languages

September 18, 2016

Casey Jones, 7, responds to a question Monday afternoon at French camp in the Old Horticulture Building. Jones and other students will spend a week learning the language and culture of France.

Photo by Sam Mikalonis | The State News

MSU has been granted $1.2 million to develop new less commonly taught language courses.

Center for Language Teaching Advancement, or CeLTA, faculty have been awarded funding by the Mellon Foundation for 38 months to create new language programs through a partnership with the Big Ten Academic Alliance.

Though MSU already offers 29 less-commonly taught languages, or LCTLs, CeLTA faculty hope to add many more, including Armenian, Burmese, Gaelic, Hmong, Serbo-Croatian and Sinhala, according to the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages’ website.

The new LCTL courses will be taught via CourseShare, an online distance-learning program used throughout Big Ten Academic Alliance schools.

Although LCTL learners agree that access to these languages is important, some students think the university could be doing more.

“Hopefully in the future MSU will show its commitment by hiring a full-time, in-person teacher instead of relying solely on digital language instruction,” doctoral student Shelbi Meissner said. 

Meissner, a speaker of Ojibwe, did her dissertation on indigenous language revitalization.

“It’s really important that Native American students at MSU have the opportunity to learn their ancestral languages,” Meissner said.

Graduate student Jacob Jurss also believes in the importance of ancestral languages.

“I’m actually white, but my wife is an Ojibwe descendant,” Jurss said. “I want to be able to speak to my children in their language.”

Less-commonly taught languages are often tied to groups of people who have experienced oppression, and making them more accessible can help begin to change that legacy.

“The history of the United States has worked to erase Native language, Native culture. So it’s about revitalizing the culture and keeping it thriving,” Jurss said.

Students without ancestral ties to a less-commonly taught language stand to gain a lot from these programs too, Koen Van Gorp, who will help develop the new courses, said.

“I think it’s kind of getting an alternative view of the world,” Van Gorp said. “It opens up new windows, new avenues, new horizons.”

Joseph Miller, program manager for academic programs at the Big Ten Academic Alliance, said if all goes well, the first students could begin using the new LCTL programs as early as fall 2017.

Despite Miller’s hopes to make new courses available quickly, “it’s definitely not an easy project,” Van Gorp said. “We are collaborating with a lot of other universities and with a lot of other professors — we also want to integrate as many people as possible in this project.”

If the new LCTL courses prove successful, the Big Ten Academic Alliance would hope to continue to expand to more languages, executive director Barbara McFadden Allen said.

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