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Friday, April 19, 2024

Tackling foreign language courses as a college student

A guide on how to succeed in language courses at UC Davis

 

By ZOEY MORTAZAVI — features@theaggie.org

 

There are many reasons to take foreign language courses while in college. At UC Davis and beyond, many take language courses to study abroad. Others try to learn new languages for cultural reasons, general interest or just to fulfill major requirements — particularly for students within the College of Letters and Science here at UC Davis. 

Regardless of why students enroll in foreign language courses, countless studies show that learning multiple languages can be incredibly beneficial. Fluency, or even partial fluency, of multiple languages can aid with cognitive development and cultural competency, as well as act as a generally useful skill. Despite the fact that enrollment in language courses is at an extreme low, many students still hope to learn multiple languages during their time in college. 

UC Davis PhD student and Associate French Instructor Calista Pettit said students can benefit a lot from taking language courses.

“I believe that if you truly put energy into your studies, even if you find that foreign languages don’t come naturally to you, you’ll get a lot out of the class,” Pettit said. “If you come to class prepared and willing to try, you’ll make great strides in your language development.” 

For many students, taking courses in a foreign language is simply another requirement to check off their lists. Many resources and materials are available to help students succeed in language courses; however, even those who are academically successful in these courses often reflect low retention rates of the languages being studied. 

That being said, many students who opt to take these courses are serious about learning the language they’re enrolled in, but it can be intimidating and challenging to get started. 

Language courses at UC Davis are five units, and they take place every day of the week. Students should expect to put the amount of effort into the class that they hope to get out of it, according to local language professors. In other words, students have the capacity to succeed and retain the language if they work on it regularly and consistently — outside of the classroom just as much as in it. 

Although it may be intimidating, Pettit said students can increase their learning capabilities by participating in class.

 “Many people don’t volunteer in class because they’re afraid to say the wrong answer or look silly, but the people who are constantly raising their hands, stepping outside their comfort zones and asking for help are the students who are making the most progress,” Pettit said. “Learning a new language can be scary, but if you have a positive attitude and you’re open to new ideas, you’ll find you’re taking in a lot just by being present and participating.”

However, in terms of specific work and study habits for these courses, many students don’t know where to start. Everyday practice can be hard to maintain, and the 50-minute class periods every weekday don’t necessarily provide enough time to retain everything being taught. There is a way, according to a language specialist and professor at Davis, that a balance can be found: exposure and entertainment in the chosen language while still maintaining regular practice. 

Jay Grossi, a professor who has taught Italian at UC Davis since 1994, offered advice to students. His advice is geared specifically towards the activities that language courses at UC Davis entail. 

“Before coming to class, the students should thoroughly review all materials and completely do all exercises found in the textbook and on the online platform,” Grossi said. “When they do the exercises, they should endeavor to not only, for example, fill in the blanks, but to also understand the language in the whole exercise. They should also repeat out loud the text in some of the exercises in order to regularly work on their pronunciation.”

Grossi continued to advise that students spend as much time with the material as possible.

“They need to attend daily class and actively participate in all class drills and exercises,” Grossi said. “In addition, outside of class, they should try to watch as many programs and films in the language they are studying.”

Grossi is just one professor insisting that routine exposure to various types of media in the language you’re studying can be highly effective when trying to retain it. The UC Davis Department of Languages and Literatures offers a variety of language courses, including but not limited to French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian and Farsi. 

The department offers many resources for students attempting to learn new languages, including tutoring, study materials and other options for involved students. Many language programs also hold events, including movie nights in the given language, in order to spark student interest beyond the daily class periods. 

UC Davis students have expressed that their high school language courses didn’t quite prepare them for the level of college’s, and many opt for retaking beginner levels. Even students who were raised bilingually and have already learned a second language alongside English often have trouble learning new languages in a strictly academic environment.

“I grew up speaking both English and Farsi and then took Spanish in high school,” Terme Arjomand, first-year biochemistry and molecular biology major, said. “The way my mind thinks in English versus Farsi is completely different, but when I speak Spanish, I think in English. What this means is that because of the nature of how I learned Spanish in school, I do not culturally think in Spanish.”

 Arjomand also discussed the advantages of learning a language along with tips for how to do so. 

“The most beneficial component to learning a language, in my opinion, is to introduce yourself to new ways of thinking or new perspectives,” Arjomand said. “It’s harder to learn and pick up on a language through a textbook than learning it culturally, which is why I think people have such a hard time learning new languages in school. The most effective way to actually learn a different language is through cultural means and exposure to the environment that the language reflects, not just through memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary words.”

Despite the stigma of difficulty often attached to learning new languages, there are other features to balance the academic aspect of foreign language retention — including things like vocabulary and grammar — with cultural elements, including music and movies. 

Students can expect to sufficiently learn the language they’re taking if they exercise legitimate interest and learn to balance academics and enjoyment, according to professors at UC Davis. Appreciating aspects of the language’s culture that aren’t necessarily taught in a classroom setting will make a world of difference. 

 

Written by: Zoey Mortazavi — features@theaggie.org

 

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