University of Georgia
February 2016

Languages make
the world go around

UGA offers the expertise and infrastructure to teach and share the world’s major language traditions.

Whether as a foundation to a classical education or in preparation for a specific career, foreign language offerings at the University of Georgia present a nexus of opportunity, scholarship and discovery for students at every level.

Across several departments in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, UGA houses a world of language instruction opportunities on campus.

“It’s a truly diverse blend, that both harkens back to the roots of classical liberal arts education as it builds on the world as we know it today and looks forward to both the challenges and the opportunities of the future,” said Noel Fallows, Distinguished Research Professor of Spanish and associate dean in the Franklin College. “You can make the argument that, to be in the conversation of world-class universities, an institution must house the expertise and infrastructure to teach and share the world’s major language traditions. UGA certainly does that.”

The department of Romance Languages offers courses, majors and minors in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese language and literature.

“The demand for Spanish is insatiable, simply because it is practical,” said Stacey Casado, a professor and head of the department of Romance Languages.

The numbers bear this out. Faculty and instructors in Spanish teach more than 4,000 students each semester. Add in another 900 students studying French, 600-plus enrolled in Italian and more than 250 learning Portuguese each semester, and that means there are faculty, instructors and graduate teaching assistants instructing more than 6,000 students every semester.

“It’s a major operation,” Casado said. “If students want to pursue careers here in the U.S., being English–Spanish bilingual gives them a huge advantage in the job market.”

Spanish instruction is also available online at all levels.

“Our Spanish majors come from two interconnected and mutually enriching areas of interest: in one, we find emerging scholars of linguistics, literature and culture,” said Elizabeth Wright, an associate professor of Spanish. “In the other are students who combine this major with another field in preparation for a wide range of professions, including education, medicine, business, media studies, law, social work and diplomacy.”

These latter combinations plus the increasing numbers of UGA students studying abroad present dynamic new avenues for career advancement and success.

“I initially started taking Spanish classes at UGA because I enjoy the language and felt I had an aptitude for it,” said Erin Cavalli, a fourth year journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “As I finished up my minor last year, I started thinking more seriously about what I might want to pursue as far as graduate school and a career.”

Cavalli said that the economic and social realities in the U.S. make a knowledge of Spanish a significant asset. Last month she was offered a corps position for 2016-2017 with City Year San Antonio, her first choice as a post-graduation program. That opportunity was attributable in part, she believes, to her knowledge of Spanish.

“I saw the deep impact that bilingual health professionals had on these patients.”

Darby Cook, Spanish major

A senior Spanish major in the Honors Program, Darby Cook realized her passion for working with underserved populations by volunteering at Mercy Health Center in Athens.

“A significant percentage of the patients are Spanish-speakers, needing the services of a translator, and I saw the deep impact that bilingual health professionals had on these patients,” she said.

Also on campus, the department of religion offers courses in Arabic and Hebrew, while German and Russian can be learned through the department of Germanic and Slavic studies. In addition to Arabic, the Virtual Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of the Islamic World, housed in the department of religion, offers courses in Turkish, Urdu, Pashto, Uzbek and Tajiki this academic year in conjunction with the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program.

The department of comparative literature offers coursework in Chinese (Mandarin and classical), Japanese, Korean, Swahili, Vietnamese and Yoruba.

“One of the major reasons why I came to UGA was because of the opportunity to learn Yoruba as an elective,” said Ayodele Daré, a second year biological science major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Current president of the UGA Chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, Daré grew up in Jonesboro, heard Yoruba from his Nigerian-born parents and wanted to learn more about himself and his family.

“My future plans are to become a pediatrician that is fluent in Yoruba and Spanish,” he said. “My father always told me that having a doctor who could interact with other ethnic groups in their languages is a very valuable and necessary person to have in the world.”

Omotola Akinrolabu is a second-year nutritional sciences major. Akinrolabu, originally from Nigeria, has completed the first three semester of Yoruba.

“Granted, I am quite familiar with the culture, however I knew there were so many aspects of my own culture that I was completely unaware of and I was determined to get firsthand instruction in them,” Akinrolabu said. “Not only did we delve deep into the language and its origin, but we were exposed to the rich and unique culture, traditions, clothing, cuisine and so much more of the Yoruba people. I even found myself sharing interesting facts with my parents that they did not even know. I took this course as a self-reminder of where I came from.”

“If someone ever wanted to read the classical texts ... they would need to be able to read the classical language.”

Cody Cannon, religon M.A. student

Cody Cannon, an M.A. student in religion who began taking Mandarin Chinese to satisfy his undergraduate requirements, said the language can open a lot of doors.

“Many people fail to realize the significance of studying the classical version of Chinese. For more than 2,000 years, this was the way people wrote down their literature in China. It is not until recently that the language was written as it is spoken in its vernacular,” Cannon said. “If someone ever wanted to read the classical texts like The ‘Dao De Jing,’ Confucius’s ‘Analects,’ Mencius or even documents written up to 150 years ago, they would need to be able to read the classical language.”

Other old languages, Greek and Latin are the province of the department of Classics. The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute offers a four-semester sequence in Quechua, the language of the Incas and currently spoken in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and parts of Argentina and Colombia.

The UGA linguistics program offers biennial course offerings in Classical Armenian, Gothic, and Old Church Slavic and a two-semester sequence in Sanskrit.

Learning languages like those is arguably the first point of entry into the study of any given culture. For students pursuing degrees in the arts, humanities or social sciences, proficiency in languages beyond English is requisite for deeper engagement with primary sources.

“I’m interested in the large body of works written in Sanskrit involving life and spirituality, which before I could only read through other translations,” said Christian Riesinger, a fourth year undergraduate in the linguistics program whose interest in orthography led to a desire to learn the writing system employed by Sanskrit known as Devanagari.

The College of Education offers a program in American Sign Language that fulfills the foreign language requirement in UGA schools and colleges.

“Many people erroneously understand language study simply as a way of acquiring requisite linguistic skills.”

Martin Kagel, Professor

For many UGA students, language fluency is included in the list of college requirements. All Franklin College, Grady and School of Public and International Affairs degree programs require completion of the third semester in a foreign language. The Terry College of Business co-major in international business requires completion of advanced level coursework through the third semester. International affairs majors in SPIA as well as several Franklin College majors must complete the fourth semester of a foreign language. Students who are required to take a language can choose any of the languages offered at UGA.

Recognizing the value of foreign language fluency for students pursuing careers in engineering, UGA recently has begun offering a five-year course of study leading to a dual degree in German and one of six engineering fields: mechanical, biological, agricultural, civil, electrical or computer systems.

“Many people erroneously understand language study simply as a way of acquiring requisite linguistic skills. What we offer, however—and because of UGA’s strength in German studies we can—is cultural study that equips students with the skills to negotiate intercultural environments in today’s global economy,” said Martin Kagel, A.G. Steer Professor and head of the department of Germanic and Slavic studies. “Students need deep knowledge and understanding of the culture they are dealing with. When you are sitting at a table with German executives or work in a lab of a German subsidiary here in the U.S., you need to understand how Germans think, how they view the issue, question or product at hand within their own value system and what the implicit expectations are for you.”

Scott Williams, executive director of the UGA Career Center, said learning a foreign language can be extremely beneficial to students and employers.

“Having a foreign language as a double major or minor can complement one’s academic experience, broaden their global understanding and appreciation of other cultures, and could potentially be a differentiating factor during the interview process,” he said. “From an employer’s perspective, I believe they would view the addition of a foreign language as the icing on the cake.”

— Alan Flurry, Franklin College