Internationalization is becoming more and more significant to graduates, working with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds. New language skills are more important now than ever before, and a new program at the University of Wyoming is offering classes for free.
The World Language Center began in the fall 2014 semester, offering classes in four languages — Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Farsi. UW graduate student Dilnoza Khasilova first organized the center to complement language programs.
“The university offers many languages, and they’re excellent programs for students, but their motivations are different,” she said. “They’re taking them for their program of studies or they’re requirements, and they have a fantastic support system. I think the World Language Center just enhances the message, saying it’s important in the 21st Century to learn and experience other cultures. This is one way for our community to reach out to the world.”
The center’s goal is to provide people with basic knowledge of a country’s language, but also its culture, which can be just as important. Khasilova came to the United States after attending school in Russia.
“I was kind of reading a lot about the United States, but the culture is so different,” she said. “When you know what it’s like where you are going, it’s so nice to know what to expect — know how to act.”
The center uses a mix of international faculty and graduate students to make a country’s culture and language come to life for their students, said professor Amy Roberts, Khalilova’s advisor. All instructors also volunteer their time, such as educational studies professor Jeasik Cho, who teaches his native language, Korean.
“We have a new teacher from Norway — he just arrived this fall, he’d never been in the U.S.,” Roberts said. “He was a little nervous about teaching a class. We thought only a few people would sign up to learn Norwegian, so it would be sort of like warming up. About 20 students signed up.”
The World Language Center now offers 13 classes for the spring semester, including Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and German. German, Polish and Chinese will also be offered at the UW Outreach School in Casper.
“What’s really exciting for me is the different people coming together,” Roberts said. “They have different life experiences, different professional experiences, and they’re all collaborating.”
The program isn’t restricted to the university community — residents can sign up and attend classes, Khasilova said. On the first day of her Russian class, she asked why students were there and what drove them to learn a new language.
“Five students said, ‘We adopted children from Russia and we want to learn the Russian language to talk with them,’” she said. “I had another group who said, ‘I visited (Russia) a couple times, but went to an English-speaking camp, but I want to go again as a tourist.’ Some people said their grandfather or grandmother used to be from Russian countries, but they passed away, and they want to travel and find some of their relatives. It was amazing.”
Many students preparing for a study abroad program also take one of the center’s courses, Khasilova said.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Anne Alexander has supported the program since its inception.
“It’s such a great add-on to our community,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for people to learn something new and have face-to-face interactions without a fear of getting an F.”
The program also helps the volunteer teachers ease into a teaching role by first placing them in another class to understand how others teach a new language to students, Roberts said.
The classes have varied schedules and locations based on when a teacher has time, normally during the lunch hour or in the evening.
“If you want some teaching experience, and that’s one of your goals, we can help,” she said.
Signup for spring classes will take place some time in January.