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‘Understanding our realities and identities’: UC Berkeley continues efforts to support language learning on campus

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CHARLENE WANG | STAFF

Despite current admirable efforts, UC Berkeley professors and faculty recognize that there is still more work to be done to support language-based learning.

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NOVEMBER 30, 2022

Despite the inclusion of over 60 languages taught at UC Berkeley and campus’s commitment to supporting languages, professors and faculty recognize that there is more work to be done to support language-based learning.

“Berkeley is doing a lot, but Berkeley could still do more,” said Jeroen Dewulf, Queen Beatrix professor in Dutch Studies and department chair. “One area where we could do better is, for instance, Indigenous African languages. We offer a few, but … especially considering the commitment that Berkeley made to support diversity and support African American Heritage, that is one area that I would say that Berkeley could do better and do more.”

One way they can do so is by obtaining funding from the federal government through the U.S. Department of Education Title 6 program, according to Dewulf. Such federal grants, as well as campus’s Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship, allow campus to support languages that are not as commonly taught.

For example, the Dutch program is unique because many colleges and universities across the country do not offer Dutch studies majors, minors or designated emphases.

“Diversity is also about having diverse perspectives of the world and that’s where languages come into play because each language entails a specific perspective of how you see the world around you, how you see the history, culture and it would be very disappointing if we would have only one perspective — the English perspective of the world,” Dewulf said.

Dewulf said it is not uncommon for departments to adopt smaller “less commonly taught” languages into a larger department or for departments to combine.

For example, he said the Department of German encompasses the Dutch studies program, much like how the Department of Spanish and Portuguese houses languages like Nahuatl and Catalan due to their strong linguistic similarities.

“We celebrate bilingualism and the exploration of Hispanic and Lusophone worlds in all their diversity, including their linguistic diversity,” said Estelle Tarica, professor and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, in an email. “Through our research, teaching and mentoring, we contribute to Berkeley’s efforts to become a Hispanic Serving Institution that educates global citizens.”

Executive Director of the Berkeley Language Center Kimberly Vinall said the center is committed to supporting the learning of languages.

The center offer a variety of forms of support, but one in particular is a fellowship dedicated to developing instructional materials for the learning of languages.

“A current fellow, Amel Belguith, for example, is working on developing a course to teach Moroccan Arabic, a language that is not frequently taught in universities,” Vinall said in an email. “Last year, Raksit Lau-Preechathammarach developed a toolkit and website for the revitalization of Meeramuni language and culture.”

Sara Guyer, dean of arts and humanities, also started a “Languages, Language-Based Disciplines, and Global Citizenship Task Force” consisting of language department heads and members of the Berkeley Language Center. According to Richard Kern, a professor and chair of the French department, the goal of the task force is to establish campus-wide strategies to “sustain and enhance” campus language-based instruction.

Vinall also mentioned that language is important in understanding oneself, others and how people communicate our “realities and identities” through language.

Dewulf attributes his path to being a professor to the study of foreign languages. He encourages his students and all undergraduate students to take advantage of the “wealth of languages” and study abroad opportunities that campus offers.

“When you walk on the Berkeley campus, you can hear so many languages being spoken because we bring students from all over the world or American students with a diverse ethnic background,” Dewulf said. “We have this very rich multiplicity of languages all over campus; therefore, it makes sense that we invest in language teaching and that we invest in the teaching of smaller languages knowing that this is a challenge.”

Contact Lucía Umeki-Martínez at 

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NOVEMBER 30, 2022