New funding brings additional classes, concerns, for foreign language students

Rachael Garner/Staff

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Starting in fall, students in language courses such as Vietnamese, Filipino and Hindi may experience more breathing room — the courses in the South and Southeast Asian Studies department are among the latest to utilize additional campus funding to reduce class sizes.

Departments have been encouraged to offer more sections of high-demand foreign language courses at an optimal range of 16 to 18 students per section. The change has been funded by a campuswide initiative, the Common Good Curriculum, that since 2010 has allocated money from fee increases toward areas targeted by administration as key to undergraduate success.

The funds — approximately $24,340,646 between 2010 and 2015, according to the campus Office of Planning and Analysis’ website — have primarily supported math, science and reading composition courses, in addition to foreign language courses.

“Common Good Funding has been a godsend for foreign languages,” said Richard Kern, director of the campus Berkeley Language Center, who added that the initiative gave money to popular courses such as Chinese for offering additional sections when they could not in previous years.

In the South and Southeast Asian Studies department, department chair Jeffrey Hadler said in an email that the initiative has allowed his department to expand hiring to teach three Filipino lectures full-time.

According to Hadler, the funding came with a request from campus administration to reduce class sizes, inducing the department to “rethink” the way its most popular language courses, including Vietnamese, Filipino and Hindi, are taught.

For the Vietnamese program, the change would involve shifting to a co-teaching model, similar to what Japanese and Chinese courses have been using for years. While the prospect has excited administrators, it has concerned students who are satisfied with the current class size and unsure of how two professors’ teaching styles would mix.

“A lot of other classes are co-teaching, but we enjoy the one-on-one interaction (with our current professor),” said Shawn Sieu, a campus senior who has taken multiple Vietnamese courses. “We believe there’s nothing wrong with how it’s taught now.”

Other students, such as Vincent La, a campus senior taking Vietnamese 1B, were unopposed to the idea of co-teaching in general but felt that the material covered in Vietnamese would be difficult to separate between two different professors in one class.

Hadler said co-teaching among the program’s two current professors — who each teach a different dialect — would strengthen the course by exposing students to both.

“These are never decisions taken lightly or arbitrarily,” Hadler said in an email. “I am certain that we will offer more comprehensive and judicious language training thanks to the changes, and personally I am excited to see them implemented.”

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc