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Students learning the Japanese art of paper folding.

High school students learned origami, the Japanese art of paper folding at the May 16 World Languages Day on the Twin Cities campus.

World Languages Day at the U

By Pauline Oo

May 16, 2006

In Jonathan Paradise's class, everyone's a winner with Hebrew. Proof is in the toothy grins of his more than 20 high school students following a game of "Simon says" in Hebrew.

Today (May 16), Paradise, a University of Minnesota professor emeritus of classical and Near Eastern studies, taught two Hebrew language classes with about 20 students in each as part of World Languages Day on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. The program, in its third year and presented by the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Language Center, is one of many outreach initiatives at the University to help improve primary- and secondary-school foreign language education or to aid immigrant communities.

"One of the goals of this program is to get high school students interested in languages and foster them beyond their limits," says Jenise Rowekamp, Language Center director. "Most schools teach only French, Spanish, and German. This program exposes the students to other world languages, which they may not be familiar with, such as Irish, and it also teaches them that learning about cultures is fun. We target high school kids because they already have some exposure to languages and they are thinking about college and perhaps pursuing a foreign language."

Each year, the Language Center sends hundreds of information packets about the free World Languages Day program to teachers statewide, and it's up to the teachers to organize the field trip with their school district, explains Rowekamp. This year, more than 450 students from schools in Apple Valley, Brooklyn Center, Mankato, and Fridley attended the morning session, while almost 200 students from places such as Duluth, Chaska, and White Bear Lake showed up for the afternoon session.

Students take three 40-minute classes in 20 of the nearly 40 foreign languages taught at the University. In addition to Paradise's class, Everyone's a Winner With Hebrew!, the choices included Sweden: From Viking Raids to Rap Music, Survival Finnish, Origami: The Japanese Art of Paper Folding, Irish Names: Their Meaning and Structure, Taekwondo and Dynamic Korea, and Excursion Brazil: Language, Food, and Carnival. Most classes are taught in English, with a few offerings for students who are currently studying a particular language.

"So many people are interested in languages, even in a casual way," says Ari Hoptman, a University historical linguistic and German language instructor. His class, The Languages We Speak and How They Got That Way, offered students a way "to look at languages in a more formal, structured way." In other words, learning a language should not be intimidating because many look or sound alike. For example, "foot" in English is fuss in German. "Door" is puerta in Spanish, porte in French, and porta in Italian and Portugese.

"Studying languages can help you in many areas, especially in learning about your own language," he adds. "I thought I knew English, but when I was learning German, I got a lesson in English grammar."

Although the 15 students in Hoptman's second class remained silent whenever he asked if they had a question or comment, many took the time to thank him or compliment his teaching when the class ended.

"It's very rewarding when someone takes an interest," says Hoptman, who is participating in the World Languages program for the first time. "[This program] is a terrific thing to have, and I hope we continue to offer it. For the students, I hope that certain neuraons will start firing."

The U's Language Center, located in Jones Hall, provides audio, video and computer equipment to aid in language aquisition and offers training and consultation services in new language-instruction technologies.

To learn more about World Languages Day, visit the CLA Language Center. Further reading History Day mentors help imigrant students succeed. U helps improve history education in St. Paul schools. Good neighbor policy.