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New center champions language learning

The Language Center will be a space for language immersion and cultural experiences as well as peer tutoring. Photo by Jeff Li.

By Emma Friedlander

The Language Center will be a space for language immersion and cultural experiences as well as peer tutoring. Photo by Jeff Li.
The Language Center will be a space for language immersion and cultural experiences as well as peer tutoring. Photo by Jeff Li.

Students studying a foreign language can look forward to an enhanced academic experience this fall. Previously an academic support office, ARH 228 has been transformed into to the Language Center. The project was spearheaded by Belinda Backous, Learning Specialist for Academic Advising, and Claire Moisan, Director of the Alternative Language Study Option. Their idea for a center goes back five years, when Moisan became interested in joining language study with academic support.

“I oversee all these languages tutors, and for four, maybe five years, I’ve been talking with academic advising about how it would really make sense to bring these two programs together,” Moisan said. “For example, all the chemistry and physics tutors are overseen under a science learning center. The writing mentors are in the writing lab. So it makes a lot of sense.”

By providing a specific space for peer tutoring and language labs, the language faculty hopes to provide a more immersive and accountable tutoring resource for language students.

“Two years ago, if you were a language student and struggling, you would have gone to academic advising and been assigned a tutor. Then the two of you would go off and meet, and whatever would happen would happen and nobody would know,” Moisan said. “Now, with our consolidation and collaboration, we can call a lab where the peer tutor, in addition to the foreign language teaching assistant, is also there to provide service. What this language center will be is a space for all that language peer tutoring.”

The Language Center will primarily serve as an office for the five foreign language teaching assistants (FLTAs) and a space for peer tutoring, as well as some event programming. Previously, FLTAs were housed in a closet-like, windowless room on the second floor of ARH. They shared one computer desktop among the five of them and found difficulty providing academic support from this space. By moving to ARH 228, language faculty hopes to make language study more visible and accessible.

“There was nobody in there,” Moisan said of ARH 228 before its renovation. “It was just faculty going in and picking up their mail. You know, faculty can do that in a windowless space, and they can do photocopies in a windowless space, but we really needed more room for the FLTAs.”

Moisan and Backous acquired funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, an organization that provides philanthropy to educational causes. The funding was used to move a photocopier, printer and faculty mailboxes out of ARH 228 and secure new furniture, desktop computers and a large television. Although the space remains plain, the plan is for students and language assistants from each language department to adorn the room with decorations specific to each language. This personalization will further serve the goal of promoting a strong, colorful identify for language study at Grinnell.

“By having a space, we have more of an identity. Giving visibility legitimizes language study,” Moisan said. “In the greater American society and greater American academic landscape, languages are often seen as something that you can just pick up, not as a legitimate course of study in and of themselves. At Grinnell, it is delegitimized to a certain extent in that if everyone gets too busy, that’s the first thing they’re going to drop. When a biochem major can’t fit French in anymore, they’re going to drop French. But what our alums tell us is that having a double major with a language makes you all the more interesting in the post-graduate experience,” Moisan said.

Although the Language Center has been in the works for years, it still requires further development to become fully realized. This includes establishing the center as a permanently staffed and funded program. It also requires further implementation of the center into the new Grinnell Institute for Global Engagement, a program that manages off-campus study, international student affairs and global learning opportunities. The Language Center will join these offices in the forthcoming Humanities and Social Studies Complex, commencing construction this spring.

“The next steps are really creating a center, in the sense that a center has a director and a budget and is not just two people working their tails off to do some of extra work,” Moisan said. “[David Cook-Martín, Director of the Institute for Global Engagement] is currently working on what this global learning institute is going to look like . . . it makes sense in this huge new building that we bring these things together where the classes and faculty will be. I think at Grinnell we have a unique opportunity to bring all these offices together and really collaborate.”

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