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Immersive summer studies teach languages differently

POSTED: July 25, 2014 11:26 p.m.

Chinese language students study notes up to the moment they take their final exam at the University of North Georgia. The students were preparing for a five-minute conversation with the instructor, in Chinese, of course.

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Every summer, students from around the world come to Dahlonega to immerse themselves in weeks of all-day, immersive study of foreign languages — but they don’t begin their day with classes.

Instead, they wake up to a rigorous session of military-style physical training.

The students are participants in the University of North Georgia’s Federal Service Language Academy, which receives a portion of its funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and is designed to prepare students for future careers in international affairs or with federal service organizations such as the U.S. Department of State.

“Every morning, we wake up around 6, and then we do PT. I don’t know of any other (language) camps that offer something like that,” said Djordje Kovacevic, a high school senior who came from Marmion Academy in Aurora, Ill., to participate in the Russian language program.

Kovacevic, whose first language is Serbian, said he joined the program because of an interest in Russian language and culture that stems from his Slavic background. He said this led to an interest in using language skills to work in foreign service.

“We’ve had speakers from the FBI, the NSA, and one from the Peace Corps,” he said. “Russian is a critical language, and Russia is one of America’s political rivals.”

He said he expects the rivalry will lead to a demand for federal employees who can speak Russian.

The program lasts for three weeks, and during that time students are studying their chosen language for the entire day.

Tenth-grader Kunle Araba-Owoyele, 14, has taken classes in Mandarin Chinese at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology in Lawrenceville, but said the all-day immersive study provided through the Federal Service Language Academy gives him a different perspective on the language.

“There are days where we can only speak Chinese in class,” he said. “It’s hard, but I honestly think it’s a lot more fun. We play a lot of games, and I think playing competitive games helps us really learn Chinese.”

Araba-Owoyele said the intensive study allows students to learn the language through use rather than memorization.

Russian instructor Ireina Kreuchinina said the intensive nature of the program allows students to learn what Russian words and phrases mean in the context of the Russian language, rather than how they translate to English. It’s a learning process she says would be very difficult to achieve in a traditional class that meets for only an hour or so at a time.

“In the (traditional) course they learn vocabulary, but here they have to experience everyday life through the language,” she said. “All of a sudden, they get new words to describe what is around.”

Because the program has the students studying Russian for most of the day, she said, they are able to experience a whole range of emotions while studying, further cementing the meaning of the language they’re learning.

At the same time, students from colleges around the country participated in the Summer Language Institute at UNG. Like the program for high school students, the Summer Language Institute involves its students in language study from morning to night, but the college-level program takes place over six weeks and earns students eight academic credits. The college-level program offers Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian, while the high-school-level program offers Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Korean, German and Portuguese.

During the regular semester, UNG offers its students courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Russian and Spanish.


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