Hundreds of high school students show off their foreign language skills at annual UNG competition
DAHLONEGA (April 11, 2013) — Hundreds of language students and their teachers participated in the University of North Georgia's 38th Annual Modern Language Day competition on April 11, including one teacher who competed in the event when she was in high school.
Erin Davis, who teaches Spanish at Johnson High School, has been bringing her students to the competition since she started teaching at the school eight years ago. Davis, a UNG alumna, participated in Modern Language Day while a student at Gainesville High School.
"It was such an awesome experience for me to participate in with my teacher and it really has been a big part of my language education," Davis said. "Our students work so hard all year, and we've got some fantastic language students. This is such a great opportunity for them to show off what they can do and see what other students are doing."
One of Davis' students, Johnson High junior Cynthia Castaneda, won first place in the creative writing competition for a Spanish poem. She found a sense of camaraderie at Modern Language Day, even though students studied different languages.
"It's interesting to see how we're all mixing together," Castaneda said. "It's different languages, but we all understand each other. Language is really powerful and it's interesting to see it all come together."
The university held the first Modern Language Day in 1975; the annual competition features visual and performing arts and a Language Bowl trivia competition. The winners of the Language Bowl—this year Habersham Central High School beat defending champion Johnson High School—receive a silver bowl that has been presented to winners since the event began.
Tallulah Falls School has been competing in Modern Language Day for 14 years. Stacy Caro, a French teacher at the school, said the event motivates her students to improve their language skills.
"Every year the quality gets a little better among all the students, so we've definitely seen some changes," Caro said. "We're just thrilled to be invited every year and we're so glad that the University of North Georgia provides this opportunity. We really enjoy it."
Artiana Golloshi, a French teacher at Lumpkin County High School, said the number of her students who participate in Modern Language Day has tripled in the last four years and a growing number of her students are studying multiple languages.
"They are talented and they love foreign languages, and this is a place where they can show how good they are,” Golloshi said. "They can also meet other students who are interested in foreign language and interested in learning more about languages and about the world."
Alex Thomlinson, a senior studying Spanish at Lumpkin County High, was part of a vocal trio that won third place in performing arts with a German Christmas carol. The students aren't studying German in class, so they had to study German pronunciation on their own to perform the song.
"This is my second year and I had a great experience last year," Thomlinson said. "It's great seeing all the performances that come from different languages."
Before the event began, students set up myriad visual projects they had constructed to highlight interesting facets of the culture of their chosen language. As judges toured the creations, groups of students took the stage to perform short skits and presentations to showcase their language skills. The skits and exhibits are both judged by professors.
Alvaro Torres Calderon, assistant professor of Spanish at UNG, has been overseeing the event for the past five years. He agreed with teachers that the competition motivates students, but this event and other cultural activities the university sponsors help increase global awareness and understanding in students and the community.
"That's something positive that involves the university, the community, the students and the teachers," Calderon said. "Knowing a language facilitates learning about the culture, which includes different aspects such as religion, politics, history, and customs and traditions. Even gestures are important in various parts of the world."
Calderon said UNG's Division of World Languages and Cultures hopes to continue expanding the event, which has grown steadily since its inception. In addition to Modern Language Day, UNG also offers the Federal Service Language Academy for high school students each summer. The unique program combines fitness, federal service advisement and language immersion.
UNG's Division of World Languages and Cultures, which includes the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and the Department of Spanish, offers courses in 10 languages— Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Russian, and Spanish. UNG offers a Bachelor of Arts in modern languages with concentrations in Arabic, Chinese, French or Spanish. The university also offers the Summer Language Institute and the Intensive Language Programs in Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian for college students.