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Students learn to speak new languages with the help of SLI

Students learn to speak new languages with the help of SLI
Instructor Yizhe Huang looks at student's effort at painting Chinese art during a class at the Summer Language Institute.

The students come in not knowing a syllable of Arabic, Chinese, Korean, or Russian. By the time they leave, they can have a basic conversation in one of those languages, thanks to the Summer Learning Institute (SLI) on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus.

This summer, 64 students from around the nation are at UNG for an intensive six-week language and cultural immersion in one of those four languages. SLI students learn one year's worth of language, allowing them to earn eight credit hours upon successful completion of the program. SLI enables students to complete their core curriculum language requirements and gain a head start in their chosen language, should they decide to pursue a major, minor, or dual major.

Students must be accepted to UNG, either as dual enrollment students, incoming freshmen, transfer students, or cadets.

"SLI is a very demanding program, the students are learning a language from the ground up 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Daniela Martinez, UNG's director of sponsored programs. "They're learning from language instructors in the classroom and benefit from peer and tutor interactions outside of formal instruction."

Martinez said SLI classes are taught by UNG faculty, allowing incoming students to familiarize themselves with expectations of college-level work prior to beginning their college experience. The teacher-student familiarity that starts in the summer carries over to the fall and helps students gain confidence moving forward.

ROTC students make up the majority of SLI students and have been awarded scholarships to attend through Project Global Officer, or Project GO, a Department of Defense initiative that promotes language education, study abroad and intercultural opportunities through scholarships. For ROTC students who continue to study their target language, Project GO offers further opportunities for study abroad.

Dillon Evans, 18, an incoming ROTC student from Columbus, Georgia, and planning to major in international affairs, said a Project GO scholarship allowed him to attend SLI to study Chinese and use his language skill in his military career.

"Chinese is the most difficult language after English to learn, so I'm up for a challenge," he said. "I took three years of Japanese in high school, which has helped learning the (Chinese) characters, since they are similar to Japanese, but the Chinese language is 10 times harder. I feel like I'm doing well just based on the way the class is structured, because we're learning Chinese all day long."

There are similarities between SLI and UNG’s Federal Service Language Academy (FSLA), the immersive language program for high school students also held during the summer. Chi-Hsuan Catterson, a Chinese language instructor in past years at SLI, said there is a difference.

"The biggest difference between [SLI and FSLA] is that at SLI, we hope our students have fun learning, but we have high academic and proficiency standards," said Catterson. "SLI is a very intensive program; our students are in the classroom four hours a day and then are either learning about the culture of the language they're studying or they are in a language lab, practicing speaking it with each other, or in study hall. Yes, there's times when they go out to a restaurant and sample food or cook it themselves, or other fun things such as playing games or watching Chinese movies, but it's much more intense."

At the end of the six-week program, students are tested on their new language skills by the Oral Proficiency Interview—computer (OPIc), an internet-delivered test that provides reliable oral proficiency.

"The object of SLI is to get our students, at the end of the program, to be able to engage in a 'novice high' or 'intermediate low' level of conversing in their chosen language," Catterson said. "And we hope they learn enough to want to move on to take more classes in that language."



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