Making the Global Local: The SLLC Language Partner Program

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LPP students
The Language Partner Program (LPP)-a·joint venture of the School of Languages, Literatures, Lituratures, and Cultures (SLLC), Education Abroad, and International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS)~was conceptualized to complement the curricular offerings of language departments by pairing UMD language majors with campus international students, or language partners, who are native speakers of those languages. While language majors sign up for SLLC309, language partners receive a modest stipend for their participation. The instructional setting is an informal but structured weekly meeting over the course of a semester during which language pairs converse on pre-described topics-such as schooling, family, travel, and cultural traditions-after which they branch out to other topics of mutual interest. Three mandatory class sessions with faculty presenters from the program offer students insight into cross-cultural and cross-linguistic learning. 
 
At the end of the semester, a reflection paper tops off the academic requirements of the course. These reflections showcase the students' enthusiasm and deep appreciation of the program. Similarly, the international language partners sing equally high praises-as foreign language "experts," they are empowered while imparting relevant cultural knowledge and language skills. In return, domestic students provide help with international students' transition to campus, cultural integration, and serve as good resources in helping international students' navigate an unfamiliar U.S. educational setting, and generally facilitate their stay in the United States and understanding of U.S. culture. 
 
"This is why I come all the way across the PacifIc Ocean-to learn not only the knowledge from a thermodynamics class, but people's attitude toward life. The people here inspire me, and they help me realize my strengths and weaknesses better, so I can plan better for my future," says Ziming He, a Chinese language partner majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering. 
 
As for their learning outcomes, language majors are excited about the marked increase in their oral and aural skills. "After participating in this program, the way I approach learning Russian has changed. I am more relaxed but, at the same time, more engaged in class. If I don't understand something in class, I don't get as discouraged, which previously caused me to disengage from learning. Instead, I am now more motivated and encouraged to pick-up from where I do understand, putting the class in perspective and remembering my ultimate, long-term goal," says Anna Kusmierz, who is pursuing a double major in Central European, Russian and Eurasian studies, and Russian language and literature. 
 
Beyond the linguistic acquisition, students also recognize the intrinsic connection between learning a language and developing cultural competency: "A classroom language learning experience can provide you with the basic grammar, reading, writing, and even some speaking and listening skills, but there is still so much more to learn. This 'something more' is exactly what my time in the Language Partner Program has given me. My weekly meetings with a Colombian Spanish speaker have given me insight into the culture of Colombia and cultural literacy that I could never get from the classroom experience," explains Kim Cullen, who is double majoring in environmental science and policy, and Spanish language and literature. 
 
Both language majors and international language partners appreciate the program preparing them for successful participation in adynamic and interconnected world. "Outside of language improvement, the LPP helps both native speakers and language learners build relationships and cultural perspectives that they might not otherwise have developed. Because of the situation, people are not only free but encouraged to ask questions of one another that might not otherwise be socially acceptable. They can bridge topics of religion, politics, cultural traditions, stereotypes, truths and falsehoods-all of which are incredibly important in understanding another person and especially another culture, The whole experience builds amicable relationships between people who may never have interacted without this program and so missed out on this truly valuable experience," says Audrey DuHaime, a linguistics and Arabic studies double major. 
 
SLLC is currently accepting applications for fall 2013 at http://ter.ps/langpartner. For more information contact Gabi Strauch at gstrauch@ umd.edu.
 
Date of Publication: 
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
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