Wednesday, September 15, 2010
On the Tip of my Tongue
Language Acquisition Resource Center trains military to understand the speech and culture of foreign lands.
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When Lance Cpl. Ryan Gummer deployed to Afghanistan in summer 2009, he was greeted with an unpleasant surprise—the translator assigned to his unit had failed to show up.
This might have worried most soldiers in his place, but Gummer rose to the challenge and even acted as his unit’s linguist. Physicians treating wounded Afghans solicited his help, and on a number of occasions, his language skills helped save lives.
Earlier that year, Gummer had enrolled in a Pashto language course at SDSU’s Language Acquisition Resource Center (LARC), a course that helped him understand not only the language, but also the culture of Afghanistan.
Pashto is one of several critical languages taught at LARC. Designed for soldiers headed into areas of conflict, the courses help them become more effective in keeping the peace.
And who better to teach these courses than native speakers? LARC trains members of the Afghan community in San Diego as language teachers through the California Foreign Language Project.
“The community is invested and interested in getting the right message out,” said Mary Ann Lyman-Hager, director of LARC at San Diego State. “This enhances SDSU in the community and offers immigrants a career path while exposing them to a university setting.”
More recently, the center began creating CD-ROMs with Pashto culture lessons, which are sent to Marine Reserves monthly. Through a grant from the Department of Defense (DOD), about 400 reservists have received iPods to download the lessons.
A proven leader
Home to one of only 15 Department of Education-sponsored language resource centers in the nation, SDSU was one of the original three sites chosen to house a center in 1989. The center’s funding was recently renewed for another four years.
Since 2001, LARC has offered language courses for Navy SEALs as needed, in Indonesian, North African French and Korean.
As a proven leader in teaching critical languages, SDSU was chosen in 2007 as one of four sites in the country (now up to 22) to spearhead Project Go, a five-year program for the ROTC. A stipend from the DOD gives students extra incentive to take intensive summer courses in Russian, Persian and Arabic. In just six to eight weeks, they get one year’s worth of language training.
With the military now requiring language competency for officers, some branches of the armed forces contribute to the stipend. This benefits not only SDSU’s ROTC student population, but also the 19 regional campuses
feeding into SDSU’s ROTC program. Project Go classes are also open to SDSU students
and the community.
Relishing the challenge
LARC programs focus on teacher training, materials development, community outreach, language testing and technology. The center has created a YouTube channel, digital media tools and online speaking tests in 10 languages.
In addition to serving the military, LARC has developed courses for heritage speakers—people who are exposed to a language other than English at home.
The Star Talk program offers intensive summer courses in Persian and Turkish for heritage speakers. These three-to-four-week courses are taught at different levels, and enlist community language teachers as instructors.
Sitting around a table with one other class-mate, two instructors and a mouthwatering spread of Middle Eastern sweets, Amanda Pike, an advanced Arabic student, lit up as she described her passion for learning Arabic, the “extreme sport” of languages for native English speakers.
“Some people jump out of airplanes; I chose to learn Arabic.”
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