Learning a language

All in all, 50 minutes a day, three to five times a week for 15 weeks a semester is simply not enough time.

CSU offers 12 different languages ranging from American Sign Language to Arabic. Some courses, such as Chinese and Russian, are more difficult and require more classes per week.

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Language classes meet three to five times a week, depending on the level of the class, but according to Joseph Bukartek, French graduate teaching assistant, the time between classes hinders learning a language. Students need more time to practice.

“You don’t really have time to spend on vocabulary that is not relevant to the program of study you have. In a way, the class structure makes the conversation kind of limited,” said Paola Malpezzi Price, department of foreign languages and literatures chair.

According to Bukartek, instructors can only do so much in a classroom. The curriculum teaches limited vocabulary because of short class periods.

“A lot of times students will just see this as just words in a book,“ Bukartek said. “But if they’re able to go outside of class and attend a lot of events that are available to them and they’ll be able to interact with native speakers, be able to use this stuff they’ve learned in the book and use it in real life.’

Learning a language is submersive. According to Price, it is important to work and practice at every opportunity.

“Doing it outside of school is huge,” said Mike Burkett, junior international studies major. “It’s like every day you feel rusty. Even between class when I’m studying, you start hitting the material and you look at it and automatically you feel rusty.”

But learning the language is only half of the equation.

“We cannot separate culture from language,” Price said.

Foreign language clubs serve to improve language skills, but also to provide fun cultural experiences for students, according to Price.

“We try to make our activities interesting, exciting and authentic,” Bukartek said.

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Classes and professors help to engage students in the language, but according to Ludmila Pokatilova, Russian professor, getting students interested is another question altogether.

“There is an old argument: What is more important, to fill a vessel with the knowledge or to light the torch of interest?” Pokatilova said.

According to Bukartek, the lines are blurred.

“The students who are wanting to participate, the ones that are more active outside of class, seem to have more of a desire to learn the language to begin with,” Bukartek said.

That desire is crucial, according to Pokatilova, because learning a language is difficult.

“Learning a foreign language is like you’re an elementary school kid. You come five days a week and you get an assignment every day,” Pokatilova said. “One class missed in a foreign language, for one hour, cannot be compensated.”

Since attendance and passion are huge factors in learning a language, the classes offered in the lower levels require students to attend some activities out of the class.

“It says in my syllabus five percent of your grade is culture activities,” Pokatilova said.

The goal is to get students away from their comfort zones and hopefully get students interested and involved in the language they are pursuing to learn, according to Price.

“By requiring a certain amount of activities in the lower level classes, we reach some percentage that becomes more interested by attending some of the events,” Bukartek said.

Activities outside of the classroom serve as an environment where students can practice their skills and observe culture.

“Practice makes perfect, especially in a language,” Pokatilova said.

Collegian Senior Reporter Lawrence Lam can be reached at news@collegian.com.