Students from across the country are learning a school years’ worth of a critical foreign language in just a six-week timeframe at the University of North Georgia.
The annual summer program, called the Summer Language Institute, kicked off in June and features six weeks of immersion and cultural teachings in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Russian.
The program was first held in 2008, but this year marks a return to normalcy, as the 2020 SLI program was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Juman Albukhari, associate professor in Arabic at UNG, students live on campus during the SLI, and are encouraged to fully immerse themselves in the language and culture that they are studying.
“There are classes in the morning and classes in the evening,” Albukhari said. “Students have as well cultural time, where we could do maybe cooking classes, dance classes, they also communicative with native speakers.”
Albukhari says this daily immersion provides for a rapidly accelerated learning process. Throughout the six weeks, the courses cover the equivalent of two semesters worth of foreign language content, which would normally take about 32 weeks to cover.
Students who successfully complete the course will receive eight credit hours worth of the language they are studying.
Naturally, taking 32 weeks of content and reducing it to just six weeks requires a lot of dedication on the students’ behalf. Albukhari said that while it may seem tough, all of the students have an interest in the language their studying, and the motivation needed for this kind of program.
“These are critical languages, and so when students study these languages they are really interested. They are motivated to learn more,” Albukhari said.
One student participating in this year’s SLI is Jaden Davidson. Davidson is an incoming freshman at UNG, who will major in cybersecurity, and minor in Chinese. She will also be an ROTC cadet during her time at UNG.
For Davidson, learning Chinese at the SLI was a chance to connect with her personal history.
“I was adopted from China … as I grew older, I was like, if I’m going to look Chinese, I want to be able to know the language and know the culture,” Davidson said. “I want to be able to embrace it completely.”
Davidson said she was able to participate in the program through an initiative known as Project GO. The initiative offers scholarship funds to ROTC Cadets who wish to study a critical language while in college.
Likewise, Brandon Clark is studying Chinese in this year’s SLI. Clark is also an incoming freshman who is majoring in cybersecurity and minoring in Chinese. Just like Davidson, Clark will also be an ROTC Cadet beginning this fall.
Clark said one of his favorite experiences over the course was when he was able to use his newfound Chinese skills to speak to a waitress at a Chinese restaurant with other SLI students.
“We got to go to an actual place, with an actual fluent Chinese person, and talked to them in that language,” Clark said.
Yandan Wang, a Chinese lecturer at UNG, and Davidson and Clark’s teacher at this year’s SLI, said students typically retain what they have learned due to the course’s focus on proficiency.
“We have the proficiency goal, after the six weeks of learning, they’re going to take the OPIC, which is an American Council offered standard test,” Wang said.
Wang said that she has been teaching Chinese for the SLI since 2018, and she enjoys the experience
“This is really rewarding, to me, as a teacher,” Wang said. “I feel so proud of them.”