Stacey Ferris took a Chinese class on a lark at North Georgia College & State University.
The decision proved life-changing, as she has since picked it up as a minor and spent nine weeks studying and traveling in the Asian country.
"It’s a lot more exotic and interesting (than other languages)," said Ferris, a Dahlonega native. "And I’m drawn to the fact that it’s not something that everybody (is studying)."
In a few years, her experience might not be so unique. The college has begun to ramp up foreign language instruction, from new majors on campus to a possible "World Language Academy" collaboration with Hall County schools.
Chinese classes were offered at the college in 2006 and, starting this fall, they make up a new language minor.
German language studies returned this year, also as an academic minor, after a seven-year absence.
"There’s a big interest in languages right now, particularly in strategic languages," says Brian Mann, head of the Department of Modern Languages.
A new bachelor’s degree in trans-Atlantic studies, starting next year, will have a major linguistic component.
"Part of the exciting aspect of this degree is that it is tied to language learning, and each course will come with one credit in French or Spanish," says Chris Jespersen, co-director of the $350,000 federal grant being used to establish the program.
A new international affairs bachelor’s degree offers the flexibility for students to pick a region and study a combination of the region’s language, politics and history.
"At North Georgia, we’re trying to kind of revolutionize language training so that it fits with the needs of a competitive global community," says Dlynn Armstrong-
Williams, who led the development of the new international affairs program.
Ferris, 20, applauds the college’s efforts.
"We need to be training students for a global world," she said. "More and more companies are going overseas. The university is stepping up to plate and has its priorities straight."
NGCSU’s School of Education plans to work with Hall County schools on a proposed charter school that could begin instruction as early as next fall in what will be the former Chestnut Mountain Elementary School.
Chestnut Mountain is moving to a new building off Union Church Road next year.
If approved by the state, the school system would offer "dual-language immersion" for early grades, with the second language likely to be Spanish, and foreign language instruction for older grades.
In dual-language immersion, students are learning state curriculum in both English and the second language. It would be likely expanded to fifth grade over time, Superintendent Will Schofield has said.
Bob Michael, dean of education at NGCSU, spoke last week to the Hall County Board of Education about the effort, which could include college faculty working with Hall faculty and education majors serving as student-teachers.
Also, NGCSU has started requiring all freshmen to take courses in a second language.
Through National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs, students can study less commonly taught languages — such as Arabic and Korean.
And through the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., the college’s cadets can receive college credit and become U.S. Army linguists.