“Learning the More Uncommon Languages Puts YOU at the Top:” WLC Students Talk about Studying Arabic, Chinese, and Russian

CATEGORIES: February 2015

Among the many languages that one can study at WLC, three – Arabic, Chinese, and Russian – are probably not languages that many students were able to take in high school. Aptly described by scholars as “Less Commonly Taught Languages,” or LCTL’s, these languages are not staple offerings in many schools or colleges across the country. (For example, according to the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota, Russian has been taught only in 8 Iowa high schools, Arabic – in 2, while Chinese has only been offered at the post-secondary level.)

Although they are not widely taught, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian have also been described as “critical need” languages, with the demand for proficient speakers in the US far exceeding supply. Fortunately, WLC is a department that provides our students with the rare and valuable opportunity to study and refine their skills in these three LCTL’s. From a broad range of language and culture classes, to study-abroad and internship programs, and to vibrant language clubs, we provide out students with extraordinary resources to enhance their language proficiencies in languages that some would perhaps consider “unusual.”

For this issue of the newsletter, we have asked current students in First- and Second-Year classes of these “Less Commonly Taught Languages” about their experiences studying LCTL’s. What motivates our students to begin learning Arabic, Chinese, or Russian when they come to Iowa State?

Andreas Haffar / Double-major in Journalism/Mass Communications and International Studies (Africa/Middle East) / Junior (currently taking Arabic 202).

It’s exciting to not only learn about the language itself but to learn about Arabic culture as well. With this language, you can’t simply guess what words mean or how they sound simply by looking at it, like English speakers could in identifying words in Spanish or French, for example. It is really exciting to learn a whole new alphabet and way of writing. What was difficult at first was training my ears to pick up certain sounds when listening to Arabic. Two words can sound very similar except for very small differences and emphasis on certain letters. Over time, it’s something I have gotten used to. (…) I think that Arabic is a good language to learn, perhaps because not many people are learning it, but for me, it’s also a cultural and family matter. My father’s side of the family can speak Arabic but my father forgot how to write it due to the fact that he spent most of his childhood in Ghana, West Africa learning English, but hardly using Arabic but to speak to my grandparents and my aunts. I hope one day [being able to speak Arabic] will not only help my career choice but relate to and speak more with that side of my family.

Richard Bechtol / Communication Studies and International Studies / Sophomore (currently taking RUS 202).

Personally, I am fascinated by culture and other languages.  I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Russian language and Russian history.  Russia is one of the oldest countries in the world, and it is one of the few that has, more or less, been able to develop entirely on its own, with relatively few outside influences.  Particularly, this is why I find Russian history so fascinating. (…) The most difficult part for me so far has just been getting used to the idea that there is oftentimes no direct translation between English and Russian. This makes many different concepts in Russian difficult for me to understand.  Not only are we learning an entirely new language and alphabet, but we are also restructuring the way we think about everyday things. (…) Long term, I desire to work for the US Dept. of State, since I have such a passion for learning about other cultures and countries. I have no doubt that learning Russian will help with this goal.

Casey Halder / Food Science Major / International Studies Minor / Sophomore (currently taking Chin 102).

The most exciting thing about Chinese would be learning about a new culture through the language itself and being able to see through someone else’s view of the world through the language as well. The most difficult part was beginning how to teach my brain how to process a new language. (…) I think anyone who is taking a second language, either for fun, for the academic credit, or a part of their major, is really onto something. You not only get to learn a new language, but you get to see the world, and even your everyday life, in a whole new way. Once you step outside the narrow mind of thinking, and begin to take on a new language, your perspective on the culture behind the language changes dramatically…

Matthew Heinrichs / French and Spanish major/ Freshman (currently taking Arabic 102).

The most rewarding thing about taking Arabic is knowing that I am taking a language that very few people here are able to speak, and knowing that I will be able to be understood in so many countries in the Middle East. Since I am going to be an interpreter, Arabic will be an important language for me to know.  I will have a skill that many other applicants for my future profession will not have.

Haley Bailey / Political Science and Criminal Justice / Sophomore (currently taking RUS 102).

I love learning new languages because it opens up doorways for communication and learning about other people’s way of life. Plus I love traveling so I can go multiple places now and understand signs and people. (…) The most difficult thing, for me, in German is sentence structure, and in Russian is keeping up with all of the vocabulary. I learned German at a slower pace in high school so I learned the vocabulary a lot better but I never spoke it so I’m bad at thinking of words to speak. Where in Russian, in college, I think I’m pretty good at both so far because we practice both every class but there’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time. (…) I think knowing foreign languages will definitely help in a future career. It depends what kind of career exactly you want to go into but most of the time you can get a better job or higher chances of getting the one you want, it seems like, if you can speak more than one language. Plus learning the more uncommon languages puts you at the top of a list over people who can’t speak them.

Nick Corwin / Supply Chain Management / Junior (currently taking Chin 202).

I’m extremely confident that knowing how to speak Chinese will benefit me in my professional career. I’m hoping to do business through China after graduation. (…) Learning any language is going to take a lot of time and practice. I think Chinese is especially difficult because it has no similarities to English. Learning time management and discipline to learn Chinese has been the hardest part. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing if I put my mind to it. The greatest opportunity I’ve had through taking these courses was having an internship in Shanghai this last summer. I know that if I never took the chance in learning Chinese at Iowa State, I never would have been presented with the opportunity to gain work experience on the other side of the world.

Austin Abrams/ Criminal Justice and Accounting/ Sophomore (currently taking RUS 202).

Russia is an emerging market and many companies are starting to take advantage of growing internationally. When you are the only one in your company who can speak Russian and that company thinks it’s time to expand, you’ll be viewed as an asset to that company. Just being able to say I speak Russian is a huge advantage, instead of a language that is common like Spanish or French.

Greta Hruby / Psychology / Junior (currently taking Arabic 102).

Learning Arabic is definitely helpful for any of my future career goals, professional or academic. Even if I never took another class after this, I have already gained a more in depth understanding of another culture and insight into how cultures can mingle. The kind of experience gained in the classroom and my effort towards learning will carry over into how I act in a professional setting where I might mingle with people from other backgrounds or environments. (…) The most exciting part [about studying Arabic] is when for a homework assignment we have to read or write something and, though I still need a lot of practice, I know what I’m reading or writing. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment and self-pride.

Titeus Miller /  Criminal Justice / Freshman (currently taking Chin 102).

The most exiting part [about studying Chinese] is the challenge to grasp the new writing style and speech patterns that are seen in the Chinese language. The most difficult for me is recalling the characters to write them. I think having the ability to speak Chinese may help in my future, but it may also just end up being a skill I have that I’m proud of.

Adam Grimm / Horticulture and German major; Russian Studies and History minor / senior (currently taking RUS 102).

The most exciting part of learning a foreign language is the language coming to life before your eyes. I found this to be especially true with starting Russian. Over the course of a few weeks and then a few months, what was once strange symbols became words, and words that brought a whole different perspective of life. (…) My hope is to study German history for both a masters and a PhD program, and considering the past between Germany, Russia and the US, I felt it would be a great tool to learn Russian as well as German. (…) The most challenging part to learning a foreign language for me, is allowing myself to make mistakes and then learning from them. I noticed that when I worried too much about making mistakes, especially with speaking, I would avoid speaking as much as I could; however, once I realized that making mistakes is a natural way of learning a language, I became far more comfortable speaking, which allowed for an easier time for learning.