Café spreads language dept. awareness

Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff

This past Wednesday, the coffee lounge in Baker Hall near Ginger’s Express was the setting for the Polyglot Café. The informal social was set up by the Modern Language Student Advisory Council (MLSAC), and was able to bring together over 50 students and faculty, who conversed about tales abroad and favorite classes over various worldly cookies and coffees.

Several members of the MLSAC spoke to the crowd, and at times some displayed their multilingual proficiency by sharing personal information in Spanish, Japanese, and Russian. They spoke about the modern languages department, majoring and minoring in a language, and the MLSAC itself. Projected on the wall behind the multilingual members was a slideshow of pictures taken from students’ recent trips abroad.

Along with the students — who wore name tags with their specialized languages — numerous professors and faculty were scattered throughout the room, ready and willing to talk about their area of instruction.

And while there were dozens of students with experience in the eight languages offered (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish), several others attending the social had no experience with languages at the school.

Susan Polansky, head of the Department of Modern Languages, spoke of the benefits of learning a new language. “Students who pursue the study of world languages and cultures are especially well-equipped for communicating, working, and networking in our increasingly interconnected world,” Polansky said.

“English may be considered the lingua franca in much of the working world, but the global corporate world ... is recognizing the importance of multilingual proficiency and its economic returns.”

Regarding chances to improve and enhance one’s language skills, Polansky said, “the more opportunity one has to do so, the better, including study abroad, study on campus, or a combination.”

While students may suspect a language class to be nothing more than an hour-long textbook lecture that can easily put students to sleep, MLSAC members assured their audience that language courses are far from this environment. More often than not, the textbook serves as just one of many resources used by professors to teach students not only about the language, but also its context within various cultures.

These new forms of communication can offer endless information, if a student is willing. “Languages are what you make of it,” said Nancy Brown, a sophomore majoring in ethics, history, and public policy. Though languages aren’t an official part of Brown’s academic career yet, she’s considering a minor in Spanish. Eventually, she’d like to spend a summer abroad in Granada, Spain.

Katie Dickson, a sophomore creative writing major, said that courses can be “very demanding” and often require a good deal of “outside studying.” Dickson is taking classes toward the Foreign Language and Culture Certificate in Italian, as it is not offered as a minor at Carnegie Mellon.

Certificates are available in all languages of the modern language department, except Arabic. With her future knowledge of the language, working abroad in Italy is not completely out of the picture; she mentions that working for a publishing company dealing with translations would be an optimal career for her.

Studying a language as a minor can, in the words of Polansky, “build a student’s interdisciplinary strengths in an exciting and creative way, as it enhances communication skills and cross-cultural awareness.” She also adds that the studying and training in humanities “contribute to enhanced prospects for themselves and enriched fields of exchange and knowledge transfer for those with whom they interact.”

Opinions on the event were positive, and several people were pleased with the large turnout. “It was great to see interest in the activities of modern languages,” Polansky said. “I was delighted by the large attendance.”