Vietnamese language instruction will return to campus next summer as part of an intensive immersion language program that will also include Czech, Russian and Modern Greek.
In an effort to keep UT’s smaller language programs alive, the College of Liberal Arts will launch a new multi-language summer program next year that will bring together students from UT and other universities to learn a year’s worth of foreign languages in two months. Last spring, the University’s Department of Asian Studies cut the Vietnamese language program in response to a state-directed 5-percent budget cut to the University as a whole.
Thomas Garza, associate professor and director of the Texas Language Center, said the multi-language program is a trial balloon and will be open to the public. It will test whether it can generate revenue from the larger fees that non-UT students will pay. Garza said in light of budget cuts, each language department is trying to find ways to get students through their programs more cost effectively without reducing the quality of education, and the new summer program will help keep smaller language courses running if it is continued each summer.
“We have a wonderful Spanish program, but to ignore all those other wonderful languages that are out there would just be a travesty,” he said. “We don’t want to see something as stupid as a budget cut be the reason why we lose all of our incredible intellectual content.”
When UT alumna Nickie Tran learned of the cut in April, she spent the weeks leading up to her May 2010 graduation working with Student Government, Senate of College Councils and
administrators to try to find a way to restore the Vietnamese language program. The new intensive program is a first step toward bringing the language back to students who want to study it, she said.
“This is a good start, and I hope it leads to more Vietnamese courses whether in Asian Studies or other departments,” said Tran, former president of the Vietnamese Student Association. “Right now, things are more geared to China and India, but it would be great to see more diversity in the department.”
Since students interested in studying Vietnamese are used to seeing the programs offered in the fall and spring, not summer, Tran said it might be difficult to get a high level of enrollment to accurately demonstrate students’ interest in the language.
Joel Brereton, chairman of the Department of Asian Studies, is leading the search for a new Vietnamese instructor to replace Hoang Ngo, formerly UT’s only Vietnamese professor. In April, Brereton said cutting the Vietnamese language program would save the University about $50,000.
Costs for the summer language program, which includes instructors’ and teaching assistants’ salaries, are expected to be about $49,000. The funds will come from the college’s $2.6 million summer instructional budget, and any extra revenue the program generates will go back to individual departments, such as French and Italian.
In order to be a flagship university, UT must find a way to offer languages that smaller institutions cannot cover, said Esther Raizen, associate dean for research in the College of Liberal Arts. Raizen said UT’s Arabic Flagship Program serves as a precedent for the new summer program and has proven successful at helping students gain fluency in Arabic.
Helena Schneider, events coordinator for the Arabic program, said almost all students increase a full level in the summer immersion institute, improving from beginner to intermediate or intermediate to advanced.
“Students are eating, breathing, sleeping Arabic. This is all they are doing,” Schneider said. “We recruit directly from the summer institute into the Arabic Flagship Program. Students showing exemplary progress get handpicked.”
Students in the new program will be completely immersed in either Czech, Russian, Modern Greek or Vietnamese. They will live in the Dobie Center on language-specific floors with a paid teaching assistant and other students who are learning the same languages in daily three-hour classes.
Assistant instructor Nicholas Gossett, who will teach the second summer session of Russian, said foreign language courses are taking a hit from upper administrators who believe foreign languages are expendable, but the University should pursue being well-known for its students’ language skills.
“Our students need these languages to prepare them for the job market,” Gossett said.
Russian and Polish sophomore Philip Rychlik said the program would provide a unique and effective alternative for students wishing to learn a language quickly but who lack the time or money to study abroad. Although Rychlik has already completed the first three semesters of Russian and would be ineligible, he said it is a promising option for younger students interested in Russian.
“I’ve been interested in Russia since I was 14, and I’ve planned to study abroad but I just don’t have the money right now,” he said. “Having the ability to work on language skills in an immersion-type environment without having to spend all the money to go to the country is a really great opportunity.”