World Languages Day inspires high school students to explore

November 11, 2010 By Susannah Brooks

Since World Languages Day began in 2002, renowned professor Harold Scheub has roused the crowd with his tales of crossing the African continent in search of stories and folk tales.

“I was only a tourist until I started to learn languages,” says Scheub, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Humanities in the Department of African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Then I became a citizen of the world.”

When the 10th World Languages Day takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 17, the program will have brought more than 6,000 Wisconsin high school students and teachers to the UW–Madison campus. Now hosted by UW–Madison’s Language Institute, the program offers a full day of cultural and linguistic exploration at the Memorial Union and Pyle Center. According to Wendy Johnson, program coordinator for the Language Institute, more than 600 students and teachers from 25 high schools will attend this year’s activities.

More than 50 interactive mini-classes, hands-on workshops and performances will take place on topics as diverse as “Hidden Paris,” “Write Your Name and Say Hello in Russian,” “Understanding Korean Popular Culture and Language” and “Yoruba Greetings.”

“By getting involved with cultures and languages from around the world, students experience the value and the fun of language learning and cultural growth,” says Sally Magnan, director of the Language Institute, which hosts the program. “They see first hand the great wealth in language and culture studies that UW–Madison offers — to them and to the state.”

World Languages Day began as a way to share the riches of UW–Madison’s language programs with high school students and teachers. Catherine Reiland, founding coordinator, collaborated with Jane Tylus, then associate dean in the College of Letters & Science, as well as Phillip Certain, then dean of L&S, and department chairs in the humanities. According to Reiland, initial goals included underscoring how proficiency in other languages can tear down barriers and help students to actively connect with other parts of the world.

“We launched our first program with over 500 high school students, guidance counselors and teachers in attendance, where they had the chance to sample Japanese food, sing a song in Italian, and dance the tango,” recalls Tylus, now at New York University. “It’s thrilling to know that the university continues to support this program!”

For these Wisconsin schools and others, the annual event gives students a glimpse of world diversity and a chance to look ahead to college opportunities in languages and cultures. The program underscores UW–Madison’s commitment to both global citizenship and the Wisconsin Idea: bringing the world to Wisconsin while sharing Wisconsin with the world.

“Students who go to World Languages Day regularly return with a renewed or even new vision as to why they’re studying the languages that they chose,” says Jaci Collins, teacher of French and Japanese at Lincoln High School in Manitowoc. “The event allows them to dream about venturing beyond their hometowns to see the world. World Languages Day opens up the world to students.”

UW-Madison is a leader in foreign language instruction and research. The university is home to 11 internationally respected departments of language and literature, 11 area studies centers, the National Council of Less Commonly Taught Languages and the National African Language Resource Center. The Language Institute draws on the wealth of these resources to promote collaboration for research, education and community outreach in world languages, literatures and cultures.

World Languages Day, now housed in the Language Institute, has thrived with the support of the College of Letters & Science and the Division of International Studies, as well as individual faculty, staff and students from many departments and programs on campus who volunteer their time to lead presentations at World Languages Day each year. The event receives generous support from the Evjue Foundation and Anonymous Fund, as well as from the university’s Title VI Centers and Russian Flagship Center.

For more information on World Languages Day, visit http://www.languageinstitute.wisc.edu/wld.

Four high schools attending this year also attended the inaugural World Languages Day in 2002. They are LaFollette and West (both of Madison); Lincoln (Manitowoc) and Verona.

Other schools participating this year include Adams-Friendship; Ashwaubenon; Christian Life (Kenosha); Hartford; Holmen; Hortonville; Jefferson; Kimberly; Logan (La Crosse); Malcolm Shabazz (Madison); Marshall; Menasha; Mukwonago; Muskego; Oshkosh North; Poynette; Prairie du Chien; Sauk Prairie; Weyauwega-Fremont; Whitewater and Winneconne.