Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, director of the Center for Language Studies (CLS), could explain the benefits of language study in seven or eight languages. Today, she chose English.
“[Studying languages] it’s not so much about becoming perfect. You will never become a native speaker,” Van Deusen-Scholl said. “Having learned or studied another language helps you in many ways beyond just being able to speak another language.”
Championing the study of languages - beyond obtaining the necessary credits to graduate – is the main directive of Van Deusen-Scholl and the rest of the staff at CLS, which was founded in 1999 to help students from navigate undergraduate, graduate and professional language study from Level 1 to advanced independent study and beyond.
Some of the center’s programs include one-on-one tutoring for undergraduate students enrolled in a language course as well as an intensive three-week course for international graduate students to prepare them for advanced academic English that they will use in their research. Students interested in studying languages not currently offered at Yale can apply for the Directed Independent Study (DILS) program, which pairs students with “language partners” for up to four tutelage semesters.
“If there is an application of merit or academic need, we do our best to accommodate them,” Van Deusen-Scholl said, adding that more than 1,500 students have benefited from the DILS program.
There has been an ongoing interest in American Sign Language (ESL) among DILS students, said CLS associate director Suzanne Young. “Certain languages may periodically gain popularity due to geopolitical factors, but then they disappear. If we could have an urge to add a language to the official list, this is it.
Finding language partners can take “a bit of detective effort,” Van Deusen-Scholl said. “If there’s someone at Yale who speaks the language, we’ll train them as a language partner,” she said. “If not, we will find someone who can teach remotely.”
Distance education, which connects students and teachers via video teleconferencing, has seen the strongest growth of any CLS program, Van Deusen-Scholl and Young said.
While Yale has made many courses free to the public via online video, distance learning is different due to its interactive nature. Yale students taking German classes, for example, can have weekly one-hour video chat sessions with students taking English classes at a university in Germany.
“Students spend half an hour speaking German and half an hour speaking English,” Young explained. “So they can get to know each other and have that real cross-cultural connection that really drives language learning.”
The center also uses distance learning through the Shared Course Initiative (SCI), in which Yale partners with Columbia and Cornell to offer languages that a single university could not support alone. This year’s SCI features languages like Serbian, Hungarian, Dutch, Sinhalese, and Modern and Classical Tibetan.
Van Deusen-Scholl and Young said they were proud of the center’s accomplishments in distance learning. “People hear ‘remote learning’ and they don’t know what it is, but when they see it in person, they understand – it’s real classrooms, real interactions and real connections being made” , said Van Deusen-Scholl.
Recently, CLS introduced new and returning students to the university’s more than 50 language offerings at a language fair in Beinecke Plaza – everything from French and Spanish to Czech and Farsi, Sumerian and Yoruba. Chocolate euro coins were strewn across the tables, a bowl containing dozens of miniature national flags served as the centerpiece, and the representative of the Turkish course offered samples of Turkish delights to passers-by. It was a celebration not just of separate languages and their respective cultures, but of their flourishing at Yale, Van Deusen-Scholl and Young noted.
“Not all universities have the rich diversity of languages that we have here at Yale,” Young said. “We’re lucky to have so many in a time of budget crises and nationwide reductions in the languages offered, and the language fair aims to raise awareness of that.”
When asked to elaborate on the importance of studying languages, especially in a world that values a few in particular, Van Deusen-Scholl and Young had a lot to say.
“A lot of what we do is informed by research – there are many cognitive benefits to studying languages,” Van Deusen-Scholl said. “But beyond that, it’s about the ability to move between your own perspective and that of another – cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspectives.
“There is a lot of talk about globalization, but to be truly global you need to understand what it is to see the world from a different perspective, and you can learn that by studying a language and its culture,” he said. she declared.
Young also noted the importance of “deep identity formation” that occurs in the study of languages. “You are a child again in this context – you feel this frustration of wanting to say more but not being able to, and in this struggle you learn different things about yourself. I see it all the time with Yale students who say, “I feel different when I speak French; are these the words in my mouth of the culture I’m talking about? And that’s a very important part of the whole liberal arts image that we shouldn’t leave behind.
Or, as Charlemagne put it in a quote published on the CLS website: “To have another language is to possess a second soul”.
To learn more about the Center for Language Studies and its programs, visit its website.