World Languages Day brings the world to Wisconsin

April 12, 2007

On Thursday, April 19, the University of Wisconsin–Madison Language Institute will host over 700 high school students and their teachers for World Languages Day, an all-day event that aims to raise awareness of diverse languages and cultures in Wisconsin and around the world.

With 17 of 25 participating schools coming from towns with populations of 10,000 or less, the day offers high school students from smaller communities the opportunity to experience languages and cultures from around the world. Citing students and teachers of Gibraltar High School who will travel by bus for five hours to come to Madison for World Languages Day, Wendy Johnson, coordinator of World Languages Day, says, “we are delighted that many smaller schools feel that the event is worth coming to from rather great distances.”

At World Languages Day, high school students and teachers attend sessions led by UW faculty, staff, and students. Students choose from almost 50 interactive and engaging sessions on topics related to world languages, oral and literary traditions, history, geography, cinema, dance, cuisine, music and clothing. The scope of options covers the globe, from the Americas to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Some sessions will be interesting to students because they present another culture’s version of an artistic genre already familiar to American youth. One such session will introduce the language and culture of the Philippines through the Filipino adaptation of hip-hop music, the Bebot song. In “Bebot, bebot: From Taxi Dancing to Hip-Hop,” presenter Arlie Tagayuna, department of languages and cultures of Asia, will focus on how this popular music conveys a uniquely Filipino message. In another session, “Speaking Swahili through your Clothes,” Magdalena Hauner, professor of African languages and associate dean for the arts and humanities, College of Letters and Science, will introduce students to the kanga, a highly symbolic East African article of clothing that can convey messages to family, friends, lovers, enemies, or to political constituencies.

The globe-spanning array of sessions offers students from small communities a view of languages and cultures beyond the more typical high school offerings of Spanish, French and German. Sauk Prairie High School Spanish teacher Jeffrey Gerencser has brought students to WLD since 2002. “The variety of sessions offered at World Languages Day opens the eyes of kids coming from a small town,” Gerencser says. “It allows our students to see how language study can have tangible results, and may help a student decide how to shape his or her own future.”

Adds Deborah Johnson-Bousquet, a teacher of French at Sauk Prairie High School, “participation in this event enables students to gain greater global awareness and appreciation for diversity.”

World Languages Day is a program of the UW-Madison Language Institute. It is made possible by the generous support the Anonymous Fund, the Evjue Foundation, the Schoenleber Foundation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the following UW–Madison Title VI Centers: African Studies Program; the Center for East Asian Studies; the Center for European Studies; the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia; the Center for South Asia; Global Studies; and Latin American, Iberian and Caribbean Studies.

The Language Institute promotes collaboration for research, education and community outreach in languages, literatures and cultures. The Language Institute is an initiative of the College of Letters and Science, with substantial support from the Division of International Studies.

World Languages Day 2007 participating high schools include: Black River Falls High School; Columbus High School; Gibraltar High School in Fish Creek; Southwest High School in Green Bay; Green Lake High School; Holmen High School; Academy for International Studies, Janesville; Johnson Creek High School; Central High School in La Crosse; Lake Mills High School; Lodi High School; James Madison Memorial High School, Madison; West High School, Madison; Lincoln High School in Manitowoc; Riverside University High School in Milwaukee; Mineral Point High School; Pittsville High School; Port Washington High School; Poynette High School; Richland Center High School; Suak Prairie High School Prairie Du Sac; Valders High School; Verona Area High School; Waunakee High School; and Waupun High School.