NOT lost in translation

May 27, 2010

Kettering will soon offer for-credit foreign language classes in Chinese and German, giving students an edge in the global marketplace.

Soon the sound of Chinese and German phrases will be heard around campus, and they won’t be coming from the foreign exchange students attending Kettering. Beginning in the summer 2010 term (A Section), Kettering University will offer foreign language classes in Chinese and German for credit.

A collaborative effort between the Liberal Studies Department and the Office of International Programs at Kettering, the courses are being piloted in response to interest from students and the Student Academic Council of Kettering Student Government (KSG).

Dr. Karen Wilkinson, head of the Liberal Studies Department, said “it was apparent there was significant student interest and support for foreign-language-for-credit at Kettering,” following an Academic Council forum to discuss the issue.

“In addition, prospective students increasingly inquired about foreign language courses when considering Kettering,” she said, adding, “a large percentage of incoming students are interested in continuing their foreign language study after high school. This is definitely a response to what is happening in the global marketplace.”

There was also support from the Provost and the Office of International Programs. “We felt the only way to know if the interest would actually support foreign language courses was to offer pilot classes,” said Wilkinson. It was decided, based on the current exchange programs in place with German universities and the economic growth in China, to offer classes in German and Chinese.

During development of the Summer 2010 class schedule, Wilkinson was able to add German and Chinese language classes into the schedule. “It was a team effort between the Academic Council and the academic departments,” she said of incorporating the new classes into the schedule with minimum scheduling conflicts for students. “If after the first term, students want more, we’ll offer the next level,” she said.

The Chinese course includes some instruction in the culture to help students better understand the relationship between the language and the culture,” said Dr. Luchen Li, director of the Office of International Programs. “We would eventually like to add a cultural aspect to the new Chinese course including art, film and music,” he added.

“Students are enthusiastic and their perceptions of the global economy are leading our efforts to offer Chinese,” said Li. “They have been asking to study abroad in China for a number of years now, and students in my classes were pleased to hear that we will offer Chinese in the summer term.”

Kettering currently has one student studying in China and two recently returned from study abroad in China. Samantha Best was the first Kettering student to study abroad in China. She graduated in 2009.

“We are working on a broader scope of opportunities for study abroad in China for the fall 2010 term,” said Li.  Plans to expand Kettering’s study abroad program in China are in line with President Barack Obama’s goals for cross-cultural education, said Li. “The Chronicle of Higher Education said President Obama wants 100,000 American students to study abroad in China in the coming year,” said Li, quoting from the Chronicle. “We very likely will have students with co-op jobs in China in the near future as well,” added Li.

“We are interested in expanding our offerings to appeal to current students and attract new students to the university,” Wilkinson said.

Li outlined what he views as direct benefits for students taking foreign language classes; “with only a basic understanding of a second language you show people of that country that you care about their culture,” he said, adding, “it also helps individuals stand out professionally when they have an understanding of a second language, and finally, there is an added academic benefit. When you learn a new language you learn more about your native language,” he said.

“In general, the undergraduate years are the time to do disciplined study,” said Wilkinson, “studying a foreign language is an opportunity for students to go beyond their major and broaden their world view and world understanding.”

The new courses are not the first effort to offer students foreign language. Previously, a for-credit class in Beginning German was taught at Kettering because of the well-established exchange program the university has in Germany with two universities there. The last time German was offered for credit at Kettering was the Spring term of 2002, according to Wilkinson.

Budget cuts and low enrollment in the courses resulted in cessation of German for-credit classes, said Wilkinson, “but now students say they want it again and we’re offering it again,” she said.

The Office of International Programs also offered non-credit language classes in German continuously for B-Section study abroad students, said Li. In addition, there have been informal efforts through the Office of International Programs to offer language and cultural non-credit classes, he said.

Contact: Dawn Hibbard