Making links with language

This summer, Portland State will unveil its new HeritageLanguage Program, the first program of its kind in Oregon.

Students who speak a language other than English at home areconsidered heritage language speakers and would be able to startintroductory courses in Arabic, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog,Vietnamese, Urdu and Turkish as early as next fall.

The benefits of bilingualism are discussed on the HeritageLanguage Initiative Web site; the need for “speakers of manylanguages is already critical in the state’s judicial system and inthe health-care industry.”

Students who grew up speaking or whose relatives speak anotherlanguage may be fluent but might not have had formal training to beproficient in the grammatical and structural forms of the language.Colleges as well as the federal government have “begun to realizethat heritage speakers are a resource.”

Not only will Portland State be the first college in Oregon tooffer heritage language classes, but with thanks to the FulbrightForeign Language Teacher Assistant Program (FLTA), the curriculumwill be furnished with three teachers: Ala-Quassim Chillab fromIraq, Nazli Dirim from Turkey and Zafreen Jaffrey from Pakistan.They will be coming from their respective countries to teach and tohelp students maintain their cultural ties, get credit for whatthey already know and become more articulate in topics such astraditional literature and culture. This will lead to eventualintegration into the traditional sequence of classes.

“Some of the Heritage Language Speakers have a restrictedvocabulary which is important in the academic and businessenvironment. They are not up to native speaker level and havedifferent needs so the traditional language course wouldn’t workfor them.” Heritage Language Coordinator Linda Godson said.

Godson generated experience in making the University ofCalifornia, San Diego, program a success. Now, she and PatriciaWetzel, Director of the Institute for Asian Studies have finallygotten enough support to get it up and running. This has been a petproject of theirs since last summer. Trying to raise awarenessthrough events and word of mouth, they made contact with theFulbright FLTA and were awarded the three teachers.

“Heritage language is a new field but heritage learners havealways been there. There are so many now that the field has reallydeveloped” Wetzel said.

Their goals for the heritage language program are built oncreating more cultural opportunity for students and faculty,helping the city gain and advance its international links. Onceheritage language is established, they have plans to incorporate asmany languages as possible.

“My prediction is that the program will grow on its own accord;the problem won’t be selling it, it will be keeping up with it”Godson commented.

For more information, those interested are encouraged to visitthe Web site. or e-mail:[email protected].