New Language Classes Expose Culture

The new Persian language class at UC Irvine recently held cultural presentations: Girls dressed up in beautiful traditional dress, a student played traditional music on the violin, a poem by a great Persian poet was read and a PowerPoint presentation displayed photographs of a summer spent in Iran.

‘Many of the students in my class grew up as Americans,’ said Nazanin Sadr, who is a new lecturer in the School of Humanities’ classics department and who teaches the Persian course. ‘This class is able to link these students to where their parents came from, to their culture,’ Sadr said.

Sadr, who previously taught Persian at Saddleback College, expressed enthusiasm for the expansion of cultural awareness at UCI through the Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture.

In addition to Persian, for the first time, UCI is offering first-year level instruction for Arabic and Tagalog, along with the renewal of Hebrew, which was offered in the early years of UCI. These new language courses reflect a better representation of the diverse student body’s culture and interests, as well as the administration’s acknowledgement of how to best address student needs.

It is definitely a success that UCI is able to offer new courses, as departmental support is often lacking. Budget issues and availability of appropriate staff are important factors taken into consideration when deciding what language courses to offer.

The Tagalog language class is currently taught via teleconference from UCLA by Jiedson Domigpe, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Asian Languages and Culture. This is a small step toward the direction of a Filipino studies program that the Filipino student community at UCI would like to see come about.

‘This is the only practical way of offering [Tagalog right now],’ said Jill Robbins, associate dean of humanities. ‘[The administration] was actually surprised by the turnout. We told UCLA a lot of students would sign up.’

Cressa Paz, a fourth-year economics major and teaching assistant for the class, is fluent in Tagalog. Paz expressed the importance for many Filipino students to have the opportunity to learn their language and culture.

‘I am happy that students are given [the opportunity to study Tagalog],’ Paz said.

The Tagalog class is the smallest out of the four new classes, with only 12 students enrolled. This may be attributed to the way the class is taught. The schedule is contingent upon UCLA’s schedule rather than UCI’s. Held in the Social Science Tower’s teleconference room, the class is taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1 p.m. to 2:50 p.m., with a 50-minute discussion section led by Paz on Fridays.

Last week, the new Arabic language class held a lunch celebration for the end of Ramadan. Students and the instructor brought in colorful dishes to share with each other. The class is taught by Amina Yassine, who taught Arabic for four years at Saddleback College before coming to UCI this quarter.

Yassine addressed the increasing need for young people to learn about other languages and cultures, not just for disciplines in the humanities, but social sciences as well.

‘The professors I have talked to are very supportive,’ Yassine said. ‘People in the social sciences strongly support the program.’

Yassine expressed concern over whether Arabic will flourish. Sixty students expressed interest in the course, but by second week of the quarter enrollment dwindled to about 20.

‘The saddest thing is that Arabic is offered for only the first year. Humanities students [are at a disadvantage] because of the requirement of the [two-year language requirement],’ Yassine said. ‘That [resulted in the class turning out] smaller than expected.’

Maliha Zuberi, a fourth-year economics major, expressed her desire to get in touch with Muslim culture, while also addressing what it could mean for her future career.

‘Right now [language skills] are [important] for government jobs,’ Zuberi said. ‘My cousin who just joined the FBI [is learning Arabic for the job].’

Robbins thinks that American students need to be exposed to many languages and cultures.

‘Language embodies culture,’ Robbins said. ‘We can make as many languages available to [students] somehow.’

To offer every language is not feasible, although access to these languages does not have to deter students from pursuing the language they desire to learn.

‘Given our limited resources, it makes sense to offer languages [students are interested in that we are unable to provide] through [other means such as] distance learning,’ Robbins said.

A general consensus among the ‘students enrolled in these new language courses reveals the desire to learn the language of their parents and to gain insight into their culture.

‘I speak Spanish better than Tagalog,’ said Krystle Pascua, a third-year environmental analysis and design major. ‘I understand Tagalog but I would really like to be able to speak it in order to get in touch with the culture, speak to the people and my own parents.’