Continuing education for foreign languages

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THEY can be preparing for a vacation in Europe, trying to communicate with colleagues abroad or immigrant clients back home, or unlocking skills learned in college that have retreated to an inaccessible part of the brain. For those who want to learn a foreign language, continuing education courses can get people fluent – ​​or at least help them get by.

These days, online programs and CDs like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are attracting interest from people who are drawn to their convenience and relatively low cost. But more and more schools are offering their own language courses online only as part of extension programs.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, traditional three-month language courses cost $480 and online courses cost $550. Online courses include video lectures, readings, exercises and assignments, which instructors can correct and send back to the student by e-mail. Students can practice with each other via chat rooms, and instructors and students can also talk on the phone to work on pronunciation, said Krista K. Loretto, program manager for UCLA Extension.

The biggest weakness of online courses is the conversational element, Ms. Loretto said, although online students may soon be able to have real-time conversations thanks to advances in technology.

The school has also started offering combined online and in-class courses, which are especially helpful for those who have trouble finding time for a class or who live far from UCLA, Ms. Loretto said.

Rosetta Stone, too, participated in the class act. It doesn’t see itself as a competitor, but rather as a supplement to traditional language classes, said Cathy Quenzer, the company’s director of education. It offers online courses for college instructors who want to supplement their classroom courses, she said. Students can learn through the program’s image-based format at their own pace at home, “and then come together to share and practice in class,” she said.

Nothing replaces the traditional language course, which emphasizes conversation and human interaction, said Florence Leclerc-Dickler, chair of the foreign language department at The New School in New York and assistant French teacher.

Online-only classes are “good for extremely disciplined people,” Ms Leclerc-Dickler said, likening them to having a treadmill at home, while attending a class is like going to the gym.

The new school offers continuing education courses in 17 languages, with placement exams available for those unsure how far their rusty academic skills will take them. French is by far the most popular language, which may reflect its cultural appeal as well as France’s popularity as a travel destination, Ms Leclerc-Dickler said.

Spanish is second in popularity, followed by Arabic, German, Italian and Portuguese in roughly similar numbers, she said. Although the Tibetan course is offered less frequently, the one to be offered this fall is full, she said, as is the Nepali course last spring.

Many classes are held once a week for one hour and 50 minutes and last 13 weeks, costing $590. But Ms. Leclerc-Dickler acknowledges that it can be difficult for busy professionals to commit to a set hour each week. This is why it also organizes language immersion course weekends. These start on Friday evening and end on Sunday for a total of 14 hours, at a cost of $350.

Ellen Golub, a mortgage broker in Manhattan, took the weekend French course last spring a few weeks before her vacation in Paris. She called it “a crash course where you learn the basics.”

Although she isn’t close to fluent in French, she said the course, which placed a heavy emphasis on conversation, helped her feel more comfortable doing things like ordering food. food and navigating the metro in Paris.

Credit…The New School (2nd from bottom); UCLA Extension (bottom)

Professionals often take foreign language classes for personal reasons and for pleasure, Ms. Leclerc-Dickler said. But the needs of a global economy are also prompting more people to learn languages ​​for work, Ms Loretto said.

Being able to present in a foreign language, whether in person or via teleconference, can give an English-speaking employee a serious advantage, she said. Foreign languages ​​are also very useful for workers who interact with immigrants, she said.

Ms. Loretto said Spanish has long been the most popular language at UCLA Extension, but she said the demand for Mandarin increases every year, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being neck and neck with Spanish in popularity.”

Extension offers often reflect the needs of the surrounding community. Los Angeles has a large Korean population, and court officials have found the Korean language classes invaluable in helping them communicate with those going through the court system, Ms. Loretto said.

Valentina Zaitseva, who teaches at the University of Washington, had medical professionals among her students who treat Seattle’s large Russian community.

In addition to the traditional courses, she teaches a summer course which combines a year of study of the Russian language in two intensive months. She now teaches a summer interdisciplinary class in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, in partnership with Sochi State University.

Although many of her intensive summer students take her classes for degree credit, some are professionals who want to develop and maintain business contacts in Russia, she says – in contrast to many others who mainly want to read authors like Dostoyevsky in the original Russian.

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