JOHN WHITMAN: The last event is a panel-- Language Learning in the Research University-- that's us. That's Cornell. We have a distinguished set of panelists, and I'd like to introduce them. First of all, N'Dri Therese Assie-Lumumba from Africana, Kath March from Anthropology-- not necessarily in this order-- I'll let you figure out where everybody's sitting. Tom Pepinsky from Government Thuy Tranviet from Asian Studies, and I'm John Whitman. This will be a pretty free-form operation.
I'm going to start by asking each of the panelists to introduce themselves and explain their connection to language teaching. And then, we have some general topics we'll take up, and we'll make it pretty free-form. And I think, in fact, if people in the audience have things to add at any point, raise your hand. And as long as we're not overwhelmed, we'll try to work that in. N'Dri could I start with you and ask you to introduce yourself?
N'DRI THERESE ASSIE-LUMUMBA: Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here. Language-- of course we are all connected to language. But my own trajectory-- I'm from Cote d'Ivoire. Usually they ask me, where is it? But people know Ghana. So it's west of Ghana. OK.
Yes. And so my country was colonized by France. And so French was the national language. And when we go to middle school and then high school, we have to learn two foreign languages because French is no longer considered foreign. And so in my case, English wasn't my first language from middle school all the way through the university. And Spanish was my second language.
I went to England to practice while I was a student in France. And then, eventually, I came to North America, starting with [INAUDIBLE] in Quebec because of the French Connection, and then University of Chicago, where I did my PhD. I came to Cornell 25 years ago as a Fulbright senior research fellow. I will say a little more in terms of language and the-- particularly, coming from the perspective of Africana Studies at Cornell.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much, N'Dri. Next, Kath, if I could ask you to introduce yourself.
KATHRYN MARCH: My name is Kathryn March. I'm a Professor of Anthropology, Feminist Studies, and Public Affairs here at Cornell. And you don't want us to talk further than that-- just that far? Or a little bit--
JOHN WHITMAN: I think any connection you have with language, And I know you have a deep one.
KATHRYN MARCH: Very deep. Many follies associated with language for me. I originally went-- some of you may know the American Field Service? How many people here were American Field Service? No? Anyway, I was an American Field Service, an AFS exchange student just out of high school to French-speaking Belgium, where I found myself in a class of [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], which required instruction in Latin, Greek, German, Dutch, all through the medium of French, none of which I had when I went over there.
And I discovered that it was wonderful fun. I assumed, of course, I was going to become a language teacher and, then, discovered that what I really loved about language was language. And so I became interested in linguistics, and I discovered that what I really loved about linguistics was that arbitrariness of meaning that William [? McClure ?] was talking about. And so I ended up doing my PhD in cultural anthropology and have, since the time of my doctoral research-- have been working in the nation-state of Nepal, primarily with Tibetan dialects, languages, speaking people's, minority people's-- inside the Hindu, Nepali, Sanskrit-related language-speaking nation-state.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much, Kath. Tom, could I switch back over and go to you next? Sure. My name is Tom Pepinsky. I teach in the Government Department. And my interest in language goes-- it's sort of-- I'm not from an interesting place. I'm from Harrisburg.
So it's that's not why I'm interested in language. I'm interested in language because it's always been sort of something that I've been curious about from my earliest days. When I was in college, I was a linguistics major. But unfortunately, this was the scientific version of linguistics, where we all had to speak English to do linguistics. And so I can tell you lots about the phonetics-phonology interface and the morphosyntactics of Finnish, but that's about it from the linguistics perspective.
When I got a PhD in political science, I became interested in Southeast Asia. And so the thing that, I think, has me here today is because I speak Indonesian. I teach Southeast Asian politics here. I've taken Vietnamese, although not with Thuy. And I offered this semester, for the first time, one of these foreign language across the curriculum courses where we have sections in foreign languages. And we actually did two in my class. One was in Mandarin, which was a great success, and the other was in Indonesian. So we actually had a section of Southeast Asian politics that was conducted in Indonesian.
I can tell you more about that experience, but one thing that I think-- drawing on some of the comments that we heard before that was meaningful about this is that, we often struggle to offer these courses because we think there's not enough people who are good enough at these foreign languages. And for a less commonly taught language such as Indonesian, it's just really hard to find a roomful of Indonesian speakers anywhere outside of Indonesia itself.
But in our case, I think this was actually a strength. The goal of a course like this is not to have fluent speakers be fluent with one another. It's actually for people who are in their second year, maybe their third year, to struggle. And in doing so, they struggle through the material in a way that has them being much more reflective about the material that they're learning-- the substantive material that they're learning as they're also learning about language itself. And so I thought that was a great success, and I'm a huge fan of this program.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much, Tom. And Thuy, we'll go to you next. Thank you.
THUY TRANVIET: Hi, my name is Thuy Tranviet. I teach Vietnamese in the Department of Asian Studies here. I consider my background as quite eclectic. I was born in Vietnam. During that time, actually French was the-- it was a second language in school. So actually, French was my second language, and English just happened to be my third when I emigrated to this country in 1975.
But I had been at Cornell for quite some time-- more than 15 years. Prior to that, I was at University of Michigan in the graduate school there. Even though I teach Vietnamese here, I'm also a language learner. I have learned quite a few languages in my life [INAUDIBLE] I thought it was an excellent-- it was just in Taiwan when I studied Chinese-- but prior to that was just Japanese, but I don't think-- it's kind of non-existent now. But in terms of other languages, in Western languages, I have taken a year of Spanish here and a year of German here just to travel. Because I thought that in order to be in the country, one needs to learn to speak the language of the people.
So throughout the years in terms of my affiliation at Cornell, of course, my home is the Department of Asian studies. But I also affiliate with the Southeast Asia Program. And this happened to be very happy-- I would just say fortuitous existence, where they are very supportive of less commonly taught languages. But I wanted to say, less commonly taught languages is not less commonly spoken languages.
So when you learn this at Cornell, you basically, I would say, win-win because it is less commonly taught, meaning it's not being taught a lot of places, but then you go to a country, you know that a lot of people speak it. So that is the win situation as well. I can go on, but let me stop here.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much, Thuy. That's great. And I've asked Bill to step up to the panel and be our first panelist. He's been introduced to you already. So you know where he's coming from. I'd like to remark that it's interesting always to hear in introductions to this-- how many lapse to linguists there are in the woodwork at Cornell. It's both frightening and--
OK, just to get us started, I shared with the panel, after reading Bill's slides, four issues that I think may bring our discussion today-- at least as far as it has to do with language-- kind of down to our concrete matters. Let me just read through them, and then I'm going to throw the discussion open to the panel. Our discussion need not be confined to these questions, which are showing up just behind you.
To read through the first one, is the role of language teaching and learning secure in research universities? What about at Cornell? We've heard kind of happy talk so far-- situation is good. We teach 40 languages. We do language teaching across the curriculum. Well, what are the real details? To what extent does the administration in the schools and colleges actually support language teaching?
Next question, do you encourage students yourself-- this is addressed to any faculty member here, including our language teaching faculty-- all of whom have advising responsibilities-- do you encourage students to study languages at Cornell? If so, which languages? If you have a freshmen come in and that freshman is pre-med, and they want to get their language requirement out of the way as quickly as they possibly can, do you ever say to them, you should think about taking Indonesian? Does anyone ever have a conversation like that actually?
Question three. This may seem a little bit complex, but actually I think it's an important question, even at the level of the administration. Current enthusiasm for globalization at Cornell and elsewhere-- and with it, at least stated support for language teaching coincides with the critique of traditional area studies from some quarters in the humanities. Can these viewpoints be reconciled? It may be that no one wants to talk about this. And if they don't, I can bring it up later. It seems like an abstract question, but I think, actually, it's quite concrete for many of us.
The fourth question, the audience probably can't see, but I'll read it. It alludes back to one of Bill's points. Some find language learning a transformative experience. We've heard, actually, several of our panelists say this, as well as Bill himself. Is this something we should encourage our students to look for? Should language teaching aspire to do this? OK, and I'm going to ask whoever wants to talk first to begin.
And what I will do, with your permission, is summarize the key words in those remarks on a PowerPoint so they're up in front of the audience. That will be my job. I will be a scribe then. But who among our panelists would like to begin?
N'DRI THERESE ASSIE-LUMUMBA: Well, one thing I should have said is-- I mentioned the European languages, but having been born in Africa and grown in Africa until the first year of university, I was, essentially, in a multi-language context. I speak fluently in one of the key African language Twi, or Akan in West Africa. But I can go to the market negotiating things with many other languages, which is a normal thing in the African context. My trainings are in history, sociology, and I did economics of education at the University of Chicago.
And in the historical component of my training, I came across all these stereotypes about African societies-- the whole notion of civilization, the whole notion that Africans had dialects, not languages. I came across all this. And fast forward because of lack of time-- coming to Cornell.
At the time, when the Africana Studies and Research Center was being established, the quest for creating a space for learning about people of Africa and African descent was directly intertwined with the whole idea of language. Actually, I think it's-- a [INAUDIBLE] this language council, language education council-- I serve on it. And also, I serve as the chair of the Africana Studies, Language and International Studies. And I produce for the council a report last year, which is African languages at Cornell and Africana Studies and Research Center-- the major question of epistemology.
At the time, when Africana was created, there was this rejection. There was not an acceptance of creating that space that would be part of the transformational component that is talked about. But eventually, when the Africana was created, it was a whole struggle to create African languages-- to have them acquire the same status as the European languages.
So at this point, there are two languages that are taught directly here-- Kiswahili, which, as it was mentioned in the program of the Global Health Program, is instrumental in going to Tanzania. But kiswahili is a major language in East Africa-- many parts of the continent. In addition to the multiplicity of languages in Africa, there are key lingua francas that are spoken or written across borders-- Hausa. You can function in Nigeria, in Cameroon, in Niger, and with many, as the case with many other languages.
So at this moment, it's Yoruba and Kiswahili that are taught directly here. And through the distance learning, we have also Zulu, which is Southern African language, and Wolof, which is also in West Africa. So the point here is that the language is an important component of any field. Language is not just learning to communicate. You're communicating to say what? To understand what? That's critical.
So as a historian, that's something that has been a very fascinating area for me. I also work a lot with UNESCO. The meaning of language-- how were they created historically? For people of a particular group to be able to understand. When I call this a microphone, you know exactly what I'm talking about. How did it come to be? So personally, in terms of my own field, I'm very fascinated. And I have found it, also either an educator, as an intrinsic part of education processes-- so whether it is science or any other discipline, languages are important.
For instance, when I teach my course-- Women and Gender Issues in Africa. In African languages, there's a term for male, a term for female, and a term for humankind. When you say, male, everybody knows you're talking about the male gender. Although these are being contested today, but traditionally, when you say, "male," you are referring to a group. And when you say, humankind, you're not referring to male or female.
Also, when counting, for instance, we say in many European languages, 100 people-- in Africa languages, most of them, you say people first and then whatever it is. You say the object that you're referring to, people, and then 100-- or [? table-- ?] 50. So all so these make a significant difference in understanding and transferring or learning and doing your research. So both for students and professors doing research in specific context, the language becomes key, not to just communicate but communicating what? The intrinsic value that is embedded in the language is what really is critical.
And so to this question-- first question-- yes, indeed. The language must be an important component of the growth of our institution, and we need to learn more about past experiences in order to make sure that when new majors are created, for instance, the language component-- what could come as an important part of the new major that is thought directly through when thinking of the new major, for instance.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thank you very much, N'Dri-- particularly the last point about the importance of thinking about language training and the creation of new majors. That's a practical point. Any other-- Tom, please.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: Can I borrow your-- Thuy wrote down the questions. OK, so I'm going to give some comments that are my personal views. I don't know if they're official. I have a little bit of trepidation in saying some of the things I'm about to say, but I think it's--
JOHN WHITMAN: That's what we're looking for.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: But I also signed a form that says that Cornell has property with what I'm about to say. So we'll see how that goes. Is the role of language teaching and learning secure at research universities? The answer is no. The answer is no. The reason why the answer is no is probably due to a birth defect of the American research university, in which language teachers and language instruction is viewed as not of the same type as the sciences or humanities.
And therefore, the university is structured in a way that this is perhaps a skill-like thing rather than a piece of knowledge in and of itself. In a world in which higher education is under threat for funding for purposes and under demands to have consultants come and rationalize the education administration, anything that is not viewed as irreplaceable or fundamental to the intellectual purpose of the university is vulnerable.
And therefore, I think it's very clear that language learning-- I'm not talking about French. I'm not talking about Chinese. But I am talking about Indonesian. I am talking about Yuruba. I'm talking about languages that we used to teach here like Dutch and Swedish. Oh, do we still teach Swedish?
JOHN WHITMAN: Nope.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: No? These things are vulnerable. A piece of evidence from elsewhere is that we ought to look to with trepidation is what's happening at the Australian National University right now. ANU has decided to rationalize or restructure its School of Languages, Cultures, and Literature and, in doing so, is finding a way to get rid of its decade-long investment in the study of Asia, including Asian languages.
So they fired a whole bunch of teachers, instructors of Indonesian, which is-- like, Indonesia is Australia's Mexico. Imagine doing that. I think it's something that we ought to be worried about. I don't have a solution to this. I don't think it makes any sense not to talk about it, though. So I think it's very important.
I encourage students to study languages at Cornell. I always tell them to study Indonesian, or Thai, or Filipino, or Tagalog, or something like this. And that's because I'm self-interested. I also think they should study whatever language they want. I think it's very important for people to follow their passions. If their passions happen to be French or German, that's great, too.
My world has changed by speaking a non Indo-European language. It really has-- in ways that I can't really describe. The process of learning about the different-- the etymological roots of Indonesian, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, English, Hokkien-- that process in and of itself has taught me something about what it means to be a global citizen. So I want students to have this experience.
And so I think this can probably happen with other languages, too. I'm sure if you were to speak Yoruba, or Hausa, or learn a language like this, it would be just as transformative perhaps along a different set of axes. Swahili would be a great example of this as well perhaps. But I think this is important.
And so I think the fourth question John asked is, is it something we should encourage students to look out for? Is it something that we should encourage students to do. Absolutely. I just can't imagine what it means to be an educated person if it doesn't mean learning how to communicate in a language which is not your own.
And that doesn't mean being fluent everything. I'm interested in lots of languages. I'm good at taking two or three years of a language. I'm not fluent in anything except for English. But even that process of being imperfectly competent in another language is incredibly valuable. And it transforms the way I think about myself, transforms the way I think about the United States, and the world.
Final point about enthusiasm for globalization [INAUDIBLE] elsewhere and with it at least stated support for language teaching is coincidentally with a critique of traditional area studies for some quarters in the humanities. I don't exactly know what that tradition or that critique of area studies is. Area studies is always and everywhere has been a sort of political and business construction. So there's nothing particular about American area studies that is made area studies the way that it is.
I think it's certainly useful to problematize the way that we divide up the world into seven or eight discrete chunks. We want to stop those things. I think it's really useful to a problematize the disciplinary focus of areas that is. But I actually have a different sort of critique. The mistake that we've made with language teaching is thinking that this is something that is an area studies concern. It's not an area studies concern.
I don't speak English so that I can talk about the food that I eat and the TV that I watch. I also speak English in order to do math, and to be an engineer, and to engage in business transactions. And so there's nothing humanities focused or area studies focused about the language that I speak. It's instrumental to everything that I do. And so long as we've constructed a research university in which languages are viewed as a humanity's concern, I think we'll have made a mistake in that it's always going to be vulnerable. So don't quote me on all that, but we'll talk-- we can talk more--
JOHN WHITMAN: We put it all down in writing. Thank you. That was a very valuable statement. Thuy, would you like to go next?
THUY TRANVIET: Yeah, sure. Maybe we have the four questions up there?
JOHN WHITMAN: Yes, [INAUDIBLE].
THUY TRANVIET: OK, well, the first question says, the role of language teaching and learning secure in research universities at Cornell? I think I'm fortunate in some way. I can see some of my colleagues are here from Asian Studies. I think Asian Studies is very supportive of us. But in terms of less commonly taught languages, the enrollment is low.
And I think it is secure in some way because we have a foreign language requirement in the arts colleges. But I'm not so sure in other colleges, for example, when they have students in engineering and they want to come. And then, all of sudden, they just cannot take this language because the burden of all the courses or is it not even required in some colleges.
So in that sense, I think that it has to be structured in some way across the university rather than just a particular college. So make it into a requirement of sorts. Because, as Tom mentioned-- and I can go back and forth from all these questions. To me, I think language should not just be [? retained ?] in the humanities.
All of us happen to be from the College of Arts and Sciences. But I think these days, for example, the course that I'm developing with a colleague of mine-- he's here, too-- from [INAUDIBLE]. And so in other words, I'm looking at languages in some way that a lot of us are beginning to think-- language for the life sciences, language for engineering. Courses, these days, we do across the disciplines.
So we have to think of language in such a way. So can I just say language across the borders or language without borders. We can just begin to think that way rather than just sort of box ourself in a framework that is for the humanities. It's for people studying history, or anthropology, or political sciences.
But in terms of as a language teacher, here, I'm the only senior lecturer teaching a language here on this panel [? in ?] terms of language learning and transformative experience [? into ?] something [? that ?] [? I ?] encourage students to look for. And should language teaching aspire to do this? OK, learning a language itself is transformative. So is teaching.
I mean, when people say, oh, I don't know. Do I have a philosophy? In the way you conduct the class, there is a philosophy. How do you want to direct it? Is it task based, a [? community ?] approach? Every day, the homework I do-- you know, you think about that to make students learn better-- all skills-- not just for reading only, not just for speaking only.
And then transformative-- I don't [INAUDIBLE] that word. But there are particular exercises, for example, that requires students some kind of critical reflection, a portfolio, or something like that. And then, for example, I have a student here. And then, one good thing about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching a less commonly taught language-- I'll tell you, the disadvantage is that you-- I don't know if it's a disadvantage, but this could be advantage, I tell you. Because you're the only person who teaches throughout the whole three or four levels.
And then, you may be seeing a student six or seven semesters. That's a long time. I mean, I'm sure that some of them are getting tired of me. Maybe they get tired-- [LAUGHS] They would like to change into a different accent, a different-- you know, hear a different teacher.
But then, also, you have to maintain that relationship because you know-- say a grad student who needs this course to travel to Vietnam to do his field research-- or his or her field research. And then, you're going to be having that relationship for quite some time-- I mean, six semesters or seven semesters or something. That's a long time. A lot of people are taking a semester with Tom, for example, and maybe you'll never ever see that person again.
But the advantage is that you do watch the student grow in terms of his language transformation. And I have a student here who actually has been with me for six semesters-- six semesters-- from A, B, C. I actually happened to see him last summer in Hanoi, and it was very interesting. And to me, I am very proud to see him just chatting away, talking to people-- go inside the cafes and things like that. So in that sense, I think it's-- when we're talking about something in terms of performance, that William [? McClure ?] was mentioning about-- it is a transformative-- transform-active. It's something that you transform. [? You have to ?] [? act ?] [? of ?] doing it.
And if I can have the mic for one second. About plurality, I thought I want to get a little joke here. Years ago, I was in Taiwan. And somebody-- English is not my native language. I don't even think I have one. I mean, I think that Vietnamese is my mother tongue. But I came here at a young age as a very odd person-- that I don't feel comfortable in any, but I feel comfortable in some, you know what I mean? I'm not fluent in one, but I can navigate.
So anyway, one the-- I guess Chinese speakers and students asked me, Thuy, I want to ask you something about plural. Like, you know, I'm a person; we are people. You know, I'm a doctor; we are doctors. OK, but I'm in a hurry; are we in a hurries? So I'm going to ask for you [INAUDIBLE] to explain this plurality of that. OK, so I'll stop here. So we are in hurries.
JOHN WHITMAN: We'll get to you, Bill. Thanks very much, Thuy, Kath, can we go onto you? This, by the way, is something every language teacher in the room knows this-- that we're taught not to do. When you call on people, you never call on them in linear sequence. You go around the room. So we've already failed pedagogy 101. I tried to introduce people out of order, but we lapsed into the bad pedagogues style. Kath, sorry.
KATHRYN MARCH: No, but that's the polite way. I actually would like to talk sort of to these questions but not directly one after the other. I think my colleagues here have spoken to the specific questions very, very directly. So I want to talk a little bit about the ways in which I think the engagement with language and language as something that's important in the exploration of the interface between language and the production of knowledge-- writ very large. I mean, in the sense-- not a skill set, not something that is simply translatable so that you want to be able to talk Algebra, in French, and in Latin, and in whatever you're going to do it in right?
And I've been involved in thinking about that with respect to a very uncommonly taught language-- Nepali language. And I want to talk to you a little bit about what is the complexity of this very well integrated, and I think very well thought out, house of cards that I have been inhabiting here at Cornell with involvement in the Nepali program for 43 years, which has been 43 years of hanging on by your fingernails. But I think it really is the question of, how is language, and language teaching, and language learning productive of the actual understandings of the worlds that we live in?
And there's so many different ways that I could talk about the ways we've tried to do it in the Nepali language program. Some of these are very familiar. And until you've actually tried to do them, you don't realize quite how exciting they are-- but creating Nepali language options in anthropology courses about the Himalayas so that with students-- and one of the places where this is best developed here at Cornell is in the summer language-- intensive language program, where literally, and I mean, it's been fascinatingly important for me-- the collaboration with a pair of really exceptional language teacher-- [INAUDIBLE], who are recognized, really, as world leaders in language instruction in Nepali.
With them, we've developed a very distinctive set of Nepali language teaching materials, which is one of the advantages of being in a less commonly taught language-- you have to make up your own materials. But this meant that we had the opportunity here to go far beyond the model of language for literature purposes. No one wakes up in the morning or comes to Cornell and says, gee, I really want to read that Nepali language literature. There's beautiful literature, but it doesn't drive language learning.
And at Cornell, particularly with all of the international development work that was going on, we had to devise language materials that did not teach just the historians, the classic area studies fields. We had to teach people who were going to go and work in red bell peppers. We had to teach for people who were going to be working in animal science. And we actually got seriously criticized at one point by some of the federal funding that came for that language teaching because most language teaching programs are driven by getting to be able to be proficient to read a poet or some sort of novelist.
So we actually had to defend the idea that Nepali was a language that was needed for people to have an understanding in many, many disciplines. That then created a context where we became, really, one of the world's premier institutions for Nepali language instruction. Our closest competitor-- and I suspect is a school for African and oriental studies in London-- but Cornell is the only place that has-- that today in the United States-- the only place that offers Nepali language at all levels and throughout the year. That's a pretty precarious state to be in.
And as exciting as it is, for instance, to create Nepali language options in courses and to encourage students that it's important to engage in those-- not for the language sake of its own but because the understanding of Nepalese culture, and history, and society depends upon understanding how it talks about itself. And so for instance, in the summer program-- for me, professionally, it's actually really exciting to sit there and say, what words am I going to foreground if I'm going to get people to think about a place, a time-- history concerns through the language.
And I'll just give one very, very small example. Caste. Caste is a big issue in South Asian studies. It's one of the stumbling blocks for working in South Asia. People who come up in caste-based societies-- it so utterly shapes every interaction that they're in. And people who come up in non-caste based societies, have a very, very difficult time wrapping their head around that and realizing how completely it shapes relationships.
The word for "caste" in Nepali language is jati. And jati is the same word that is also used to describe species. It appears in biology textbooks-- about the tree jati, about the dog jati-- and, interestingly enough, the men jati. The male person, jati, and the female person jati. But exploring the idea of, what would it mean if you thought about not human beings as one species but if your whole way of engaging in the world encouraged you to think that people came in multiple species.
And that structured what you ate-- what foods you could-- it structured what occupations, what eco-niches you filled. It's really at this interface, as I said, between language and the production of knowledge about the world. That cannot be done except also in engagement through language. But when I say that we're the premiere place for the teaching of Nepali language, which we've done since the mid-1980s and have two of the top language teachers-- it has been very precarious all along. Enrollments are not huge.
And so in 1993, we set about to create a study abroad program as sort of the loose way that that's thought of. The Cornell Nepal study program is a joint venture of the National University in Nepal and Cornell. And it provides training for both American students and Nepalese students side by side to conduct field-based research.
And it has been, since its beginning, rather struggling for enrollments, just without the very devoted support of colleagues in the Cornell study abroad office. And two of them were [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE] and Kristen Grace. It's hanging on by the skin of its teeth, as my father would say.
But all of these things are so intimately interconnected. The language teaching is reinforced because the students are thinking of studying abroad. The students who have studied abroad realize that they really want to continue in the language. And this has spun off into providing ways of creating a distinctive South Asia program here at Cornell that's somewhat different from the other area studies programs if they don't have study abroad opportunities in them.
It's really quite an amazing integration of opportunities from the classroom here, the language, to outside of the classroom, to real-world opportunities, including an initiative that started up this year, which is the Cornell Nepal Earthquake Recovery Partnership, which involves about 15 students here at Cornell who are putting all of these skills to use to try to help the country recover from the earthquake. So this idea that this integrated-- this whole portfolio, this quiver full of opportunities is very distinctive, and yet it is really a house of cards. One piece starts to crumble, and you really appreciate the frailty of the whole thing. That's sort of one constellation of things I'd like to say.
The other thing I'd like to say about the language learning and the transformative nature of it comes from one of the other things that's integrated into the way that Nepali language is taught, particularly in the in-country-- in the field-based situation. We've been focusing primarily on having whatever level of engagement and control of another language does for the speaker-- what it allows the speaker to do with an emphasis on learning to speak. And I'd like to say that I think one of the really important places that language learning can and should be transformative is the ways in which we teach people to listen.
One of the first exercises that students in the field training in the program in Nepal have to do is to-- I mean, it's sort of like to see Adriana, [? Medina ?] Lopez [? Portillo. ?] Did I do it? She already left. When talking about an exercise where we would have students go out into the community and watch two native Nepali language speakers speak with the intention that they have to observe the listener. They have to watch how the listener keeps the speaker talking because as we-- those of you who were here in the little exercise where you got to say seven words and then you had to say purple, right?
If you are attending to the speaker, you're reaching for that content, for that understanding of what they're saying. If you attend to the listener, you're attending to how it is that people keep a conversation going. So for instance, in Tamang, which is the main language of my field research, the way that you keep a speaker going is to repeat the verb.
So what did you have for lunch? Have? Where are you going? Going? Did you eat peanuts for lunch? Eat? It's really a very simple rule to learn and, particularly, in the face of very strong objections to direct eye contact and total confusion about, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm! In the name of wanting to keep a conversation going, Native American English speakers absolutely befuddle and turn off the conversation precisely at the moment you don't have any other tools to keep it going because you don't really understand what's being said.
So I think that what we're teaching when we teach to listen is a particularly important tool in intercultural learning because it's really a meta-learning. And what you are learning about in that process, really, is you are learning to attend to the relationship.
You're learning to attend to how it is that you continue to use language to encourage and build on conversation, on sharing knowledge, in ways that exceed your actual language ability at that moment so that in the Cornell Nepal study program, for instance, where the American and the Nepalese students are roommates. Learning to attend to each other as listeners is a very critical tool in building relationships with them, doing field research in communities where people are speaking languages that you are never going to become fluent in.
In some sense, the language-teaching focus should, really I think, be on some of those skills that don't depend upon fluency for them to build relationships-- that you can build relationships in the process of building fluency. So if we return to Adrianna's earlier exercise and the call that she had us do to think of whether we were-- our speaking styles were direct or indirect, I'd make a really very particular plea. And in that sort of stereotypical encounter, of course, Nepali speakers are immediately characterized as masters of indirection.
In fact, I had a whole doctoral thesis on how can you negotiate a marriage indirectly so that no one is offended when you're-- and at the same time, you are finding out whether he has a good kidney or not. What is the value of teaching to learn not only to speak but to listen is that value of encouraging students to reach beyond their comfort zone, build relationships before there is and in the process of creating mutual understandings.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much, Kath. In terms of structuring the language class, we're already on the verge of disaster because we've just had a sequential series of talks without interaction between our panelists. I'd like to break things up a little bit. That's my fault. But every contribution was wonderful. That's my fault. I'd like to break things up by taking a minute and having Bill keep his gun powder dry-- by taking a minute to see if people in the audience would like to interject, ask questions to any of the panelists, or several, or all of the panelists related to what we've talked about.
We've talked about the specific situation at Cornell-- angles on language teaching that you get from teaching or learning less commonly taught languages-- angles about what should be emphasized. A lot of issues have come up. Would anyone in the audience like to add anything to this? Any of our speakers? If not, I'm going to ask Bill to tell his story about-- we do have someone. I'm sorry, my eyesight is not good. Please, would you stand up and identify yourself and make your contribution. I'm sorry, I can't see.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Lisa.
JOHN WHITMAN: Oh, Lisa.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. I just wanted to clarify a few things about FLAC. First of all, Tom is the only faculty member who has two foreign language sections within his class. We're calling them sections, but they actually are courses. They're attached. The FLACs are one-credit courses.
I also wanted to add-- because it may not be clear-- we're talking about these as foreign language sections of larger classes, but they're different than traditional language classes in that they integrate three levels of learners. So first, we have traditional, what we call, bottom-up learners. So all the foreign languages across the curriculum classes are open to intermediate and above-level speakers and students of a language. But they also incorporate native speakers and heritage learners. And it makes for a very interesting and rich dynamic.
They're all very interdisciplinary. I actually just sent in a new proposal to the College of Arts and Sciences educational policy committee about foreign languages across the curriculum because they're growing. And I'm calling them now more regional FLACs because they're attracting students from related courses regionally. I've also sat in on all the foreign language across the curriculum classes.
And because of the dynamic of the native speakers-- the heritage speakers. There's a lot of peer-to-peer learning within the classes, and the students are reserving a certain amount of deference toward the native speakers. So I just wanted to clarify that. Thank you.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks, Lisa. Lisa's comment brought up an important point. I think if we're thinking about language teaching as a resource in a university like Cornell, there's no question that heritages speakers and learners are potentially a resource and, I think, generally an underused resource. Often from the standpoint of the language teacher or the department, the question they face with respect heritage learners is, what can we do with them? The suspicion that they may want to sign up for 1101 because it's an easy A and stuff like that-- how much should we devote in terms of resources toward including them in a language program. But something like the FLAC program that makes use of them and also heightens their learning is really a partial solution-- at least to that problem. Comments from any of the panelists about that? Other things?
It would be really great-- we have lots, I know, of a very, very dedicated and successful language teachers. It would be great to hear from some of you. How do you feel about how you're supported at Cornell? Thuy represented that viewpoint very well but from the standpoint of Asian Studies.
THUY TRANVIET: Yeah, but our program is so small, and then I used to have two tracks, but I think the program that-- I would like to defer to maybe the Chinese language program-- that they clearly have the two tracks for regular Chinese, and in heritage track, and maybe the Korean language program. I'm not so sure about their Japanese. So I think that two of our colleagues sitting out here maybe you can chime in about the heritage learners track. But in terms of Vietnamese language program, I used to have a few students that would be heritage learners. But these days, it's a second generation.
So basically, it's just a regular track not heritage. But when I started teaching at Cornell, it was more evident then-- yeah. So in that sense, I think that definitely heritage learners [? have ?] resources we need to tap into. Do any of you want to comment?
N'DRI THERESE ASSIE-LUMUMBA: I just want to add one additional-- make one comment. In terms of whether or not the languages are secured in institutions of higher learning, when I came here, we had Bamana, which is a language spoken in many and written in West African countries. I saw in one of the posters, the architecture from Mali. Well, Mali is one of the countries-- the main country, actually, where Bamana originated.
And then through that, you can do research all the way back to when Timbuktu was a center of higher learning across the globe. So that is no longer taught. It was taught as part of the Title VI programs that provided resources. And that adds to the vulnerability. When we didn't win the Title VI in subsequent years, we didn't have that opportunity. Zulu used to be taught here. It's no longer the case. It's taught through distance learning. There's no substitute yet, in many contexts, of the face-to-face learning that needs to take place.
The other thing I want to add is my main research, at this point, is in higher institutions of higher learning. So we are talking about transformation-- focusing on the learners-- the students. They learn. They go. As a result of what they learned, they look at the world or perform differently-- transform. But we haven't talked about the transformation of the institution. This is where I do most of my research.
How is Cornell, as an institution of higher learning, being transform to integrate the idea of a language in all its programs. So that whether you are in engineering or in any discipline, language comes as a natural, normal part of the learning experience. You going to design architecture? What does it mean in terms of language when you're going to a different context?
So I think when we talk about transformation, we need to make it broader in order to include the learners' and the teachers' experience, and also the institution, so that when the learners who are, essentially, transient-- when they move on, there is a culture that is there so that the idea of language as an intrinsic part of learning is embedded in the education system.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thank you very much for that comment, N'Dri. I think it's a very important point-- that in terms of institutional commitment, it's the case that virtually all of the less commonly taught language teaching at Cornell is funded by-- one way or another by-- let's call it external money-- either program endowment or funding that programs have secured by Title VI funding as N'Dri referred to. And when I alluded to the potential issue of critiques of various studies and the interrelation with language teaching, that's the place where it interacts.
I observe that, at Cornell, the programs I'm talking are about-- the area programs housed in the Einaudi Center-- that have a fairly traditional commitment to the kind of activity funded by federal Title VI money-- secure that money and continue to teach less commonly taught languages. But that commitment has varied from program to program.
So for example, the East Asia program at Cornell for the first time since I've been here, lost its Title VI funding. And despite the very loyal support on the part of the Department of Asian Studies, there will be consequences. We will no longer teach Cantonese after that year. So we should be aware that if Cornell is doing a good job in teaching less commonly taught languages, its through the efforts of individual language teachers and faculty members securing outside funding or, in some cases, some endowment funding to do that. And it's not always the most romantic or easiest thing to sell to the administration. Other comments people have? Again, it would be great to hear from some of the language teachers here.
AUDIENCE: Just to add to what you were saying about the lack of funding and support that way, what's interesting is, as Cornell talks about internationalizing, it gets all of these, especially short-term study abroad trips, though. There's many cases where languages are not really part of the equation or very, very superficially so. So I think that it's deeper than just not funding language teaching. It's also not necessarily integrated into the fabric of international experiences.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: Yeah, I mean, and if I may add to that, the idea that 1 May conceptualize a visit-- a meaningful international experience is not involving some attempt to imperfectly struggle through the ability to communicate with the people who live there should be shocking to us. That ought to be fundamental to this activity, and it's not. It is not.
JOHN WHITMAN: I agree that this is a real threat. We see more and more study abroad programs. In the case of East Asia, one's been initiated involving three campus-- three prestigious campuses-- Keio University in Tokyo, the University of Hong Kong, and Yonsei University in Korea. Students go to all three campuses in the course of one year and learn none of the languages. And it's, of course, easier for students to do and easier for some faculty to sell, but there's a real issue behind that, as Tom said.
KATHRYN MARCH: Just one very short comment. Is that OK? The only good side of that is-- as we learned when we put the Nepal program in, students who don't think that language matters when they go there, come back, and decide-- so they-- in spite of our worst administrative efforts to convince them the contrary. So I'd be interested to know how many of those students came back and then joined the Japanese, or Chinese, or Korean program.
AUDIENCE: Well, I just wanted to say that for the short term study abroad programs like that, as many of you or some of you may know-- again, with the support of the Language Education Council and the Vice Provost for International Affairs, we started out this concept of jump-start courses, which started from just that fact. Does it make sense for an institution like this to send students to another country and have them not know a word or two-- even a word or two of that language?
And I think the feeling was, no, it doesn't. So we started up these courses to at least give them a taste-- a one-credit course. And as one of my-- in a survey, one student who went to Thailand said, I said a few things in Thai as best I could, they laughed at me, and then we had a good conversation in English.
Those first couple of steps were really important, I think, though. I wonder if you could say anything more about the nature of the birth defect and how it might be remediated.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: So let me just take the example of these jump-start courses. My understanding-- and please correct me if I'm wrong-- is that these are a big ask on the language instructors themselves. So the language instructors-- they're told, here's another course you need to teach, which is a one-credit course. You teach one as well. And I can only--
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] the Vice Provost is also paying [INAUDIBLE].
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: OK, then that's great. That's great.
THUY TRANVIET: But it still isn't in further demand.
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: I'm sorry?
AUDIENCE: I think the Vice Provost would like to-- [LAUGHTER]
THOMAS B. PEPINSKY: I mean, the one thing that I would say on this point is that the idea that-- look, I think you can look at it in terms of faculty ranks-- the ranking system that we give language instructors, who I think do an incredibly difficult thing, is not the same as the rank structure for the disciplines. It's the biggest problem. And it's completely, immediately aware to a student what the pecking order.
It's immediately, I think, apparent to people in higher education administration that this is the case. And I don't know why it is this way. I think it's probably not just the United States that has this sort of system, but it enables a sort of casualization of the teaching of language, which is not casualised in the teaching of chemistry.
We accepted it in language; we don't accept it in-- here at Cornell, we accept it in language; we don't accept it in other things.
JOHN WHITMAN: Thanks very much for that point as well, Tom. And I think there are language teachers here who would thank you as well. Melina tells me that we've come to the end of our time. As you all know, there will be a reception after this and a chance to talk to all of our panelists. But I'd like to lead us all in an applause for our panelists.
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Faculty members N'Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba (Africana), Kathryn March (Anthropology), Thomas Pepinsky (Government) and Thúy Tranviet (Asian Studies) participated in a panel discussion with moderator John Whitman (Linguistics) at Cornell's third Internationalization Symposium, "The Globally Engaged Campus: Defining and Redefining Where We Are," May 18, 2016. The symposium explored Cornell’s opportunities for meaningful international experiences on the Ithaca campus.