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High schoolers thrive in language program

Soo Jee Lee, an instructor in UNG's Federal Service Language Academy this summer, talks with high school students about making gimbap, a Korean seafood and rice roll.

After just 21 days of intensive instruction, high school students in the Federal Service Language Academy (FSLA) at the University of North Georgia (UNG) can progress beyond conjugating verbs and actually converse in a challenging language like Arabic or Korean.

The communicative approach to teaching language and culture focuses on using interaction and real-life situations, said Ibraheem Ananzeh, who is teaching Arabic at FSLA this summer.

In addition to classroom discussion and other activities,
a selection of Arabic games is used to keep students
engaged and teach Arabic language and culture.

"Learning the language is learning the grammar, but grammar can do you no good if you are not able to produce the right phrases," he said. "Acquiring the language is all about using the language in the right manner to communicate with other people in real-life situations."

FSLA is in its fourth summer at UNG and offers both beginning and advanced study in Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, and Korean. Unique to UNG, the program combines fitness, federal service advisement and language immersion and is endorsed by the Georgia Department of Education. Students start each morning at 6:30 with physical training and spend a total of eight hours learning each day — six hours in class and two hours participating in study groups or other activities. They also take a day-long field trip specific to the language they are studying.

Babba Jaden, a senior at Fugees Academy in Clarkston, Georgia, and several classmates received scholarships to attend FSLA to study Arabic, a language native to their home countries.

"I personally am from South Sudan and some classmates are from Eritrea and South Sudan as well," said Jaden, who is considering college studies in art or business. "I don't competently speak Arabic and this is a different dialect for me as well."

Jaden's instructor, Ananzeh, aimed to both engage and teach students through a variety of activities including games, movie clips, costumes and music that facilitate learning language and culture simultaneously.

Students in Soo Jee Lee's Korean class learned about culture and language by making gimbap – Korean seaweed and rice rolls similar to sushi. Students purchased ingredients at a Korean market, created recipes and made gimbap in an "Iron Chef" style cooking competition judged on creativity, presentation and taste.

"My goal is to have my students actually use the language in a real-life context," Lee said. "Language instruction should be focused on culture and background as well, and it's our job to integrate everything into one lesson and find a really interesting activity for students participate in."

Paul Hunt, a senior at Bob Jones High School in Huntsville, Alabama, came to FSLA because of a specific interest in Arabic: "I'm interested in a diplomacy-type job, and Arabic-speaking countries are where things are happening," he said.

In addition to language studies, FSLA students heard from federal agency representatives like Bob Christian, supervisory special agent in the Drug Enforcement Agency's Atlanta office. The DEA operates in more than 70 countries, Christian said, and positions in the agency are highly competitive.

"We talk about the mission we do and impress upon them the importance of taking the time to learn a language now, in high school, when it's a lot easier. As an adult, you don't have so much time, and the learning curve starts to drop off," he said. "If they can learn now, it can pay dividends throughout their lifetime."

For more information, or to apply for summer 2015, visit the FSLA website.

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