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Students take fast track to learning languages

Abdeslam Elfarri, assistant professor of Arabic at the University of North Georgia, teaches his class a song with Arabic lyrics during the Summer Language Institute.

Five days into the Summer Language Institute (SLI) at the University of North Georgia (UNG), the students in Abdeslam Elfarri's Arabic class were shy about singing a traditional folk song. It's not because they didn't understand the language, they just weren't ready to show off their singing talents.

"The words that they have learned since this Monday, I want them to put them into use so they can see how we use them. It doesn't make any sense to learn the language if you don't learn any context to use it," said Elfarri, a native of Morocco who is an assistant professor of Arabic at UNG. "I try to make it fun for them because they are here to study the language, but also the culture."

SLI students earn nine college credit hours during an intensive program that packs two semesters of instruction into five and a half weeks. The program, now in its sixth year, keeps students in the classroom most of the day instead of the three to five hours a week of instruction in a traditional course, said Dr. Brian Mann, head of the Division of World Languages & Cultures at UNG.

"SLI allows them to experience many more aspects of a language or culture than they would be able to do in a traditional program and gives them a chance to understand and respect that language in a way that they wouldn't otherwise," he said. "Many never thought they would be interested in languages, but once they see they can learn a language, they choose to change their major to languages or international affairs. That will help them even more to become world citizens."

Conor Mettenburg, who is in the Navy ROTC at the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, learned about SLI while seeking summer training opportunities.

"Arabic has always interested me, especially the religious aspects and the history of the language," he said. "I plan to take one or two Arabic classes at UVA in the fall and spring, then go overseas next summer. By the time I graduate, I want to be as proficient as I can be."

Mettenburg is one of 73 ROTC students from across the nation attending UNG's program on a scholarship through Project GO, a collaborative initiative from the U.S. Department of Defense that promotes critical language education and study abroad. The goal is to improve the language skills and cultural understanding of future military officers. Project GO scholarships also funded study abroad this summer for six UNG cadets in Morocco and four in China, and partially funded one cadet to study in South Korea and three in Russia.

Summer Language Institute-Russian
Dr. Olga Glymph, an adjunct instructor of Russian at the University of North Georgia,
says taking an intensive language course gives students a jump start on their careers.

Cameron Hayes, a UNG cadet majoring in international affairs and minoring in Russian, also is attending SLI on a Project Go scholarship.

"I felt learning Russian would be a great asset to me in my career as an Army officer," Hayes said. "It's pretty intense, but it's really good. Dr. Glymph is a really good professor, so we're learning a lot."

Dr. Olga Glymph, a native of Russia, is an adjunct instructor of Russian at UNG. She believes taking an intensive language course like SLI gives students a jump start on their careers in any field.

"It puts them ahead of students who take a language in the traditional way, because they can start looking for internships and using their language skills with companies in metro Atlanta," she said. "I think the intensity of the program helps them attain high proficiency in a short period of time and gives them a very solid boost for their careers."

The SLI instructors, all native speakers of the language, are passionate about forging a deeper sense of understanding of their native cultures, too.

"I'm very happy and very blessed to have this chance to spread the culture and spread this understanding. It's very fundamental to be able to respect other cultures," Elfarri said. "If we all had these opportunities to know about each other, we would not have as many problems in the world."

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