The Duke Global Health Institute is introducing a new language lab program to complement its undergraduate offerings.
The program will work to expose global health students to the cultures and languages of the countries they examine in their classes, said Deb Reisinger, assistant director of the French language program. Language courses will be taught as half-credit independent studies and will be an option for all global health students.
“We are excited to be working on a truly interdisciplinary project that allows students to examine global health issues from the perspective of various cultures, in the languages of those cultures,” Reisinger said in an email Sunday.
The program is being piloted this semester, and was implemented by Reisinger and global health professor Kathryn Whetten, who teaches GLHLTH 161: Introduction to Global Health.
The five language labs offered this semester are Arabic, French, Hindi, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Each lab consists of 25 students and breaks down into smaller discussion groups, said freshman Ross Luo, who is currently taking global health courses.
The students themselves select foreign-language texts, videos and other media focused on global health and discuss this content in groups of about four people. They meet with an adviser every two weeks, which is the standard policy for independent studies.
The decision to combine language study with the study of global health came about after a number of other universities introduced similar programs, said Joan Clifford, assistant director of the Spanish language program. However, the integration of language with other subjects has precedent at Duke. A political science course offered several years ago included Spanish-language discussion sections.
“Any way that you can integrate language with your other studies is great,” Clifford said. “You can learn to use it in the context that is desirable to you.”
Despite the increased workload associated with taking the language lab, student reaction has been largely positive, Clifford added. In her first meeting with her full-class language lab group last week, she reported enthusiasm and interest among students.
The class was already starting to examine a wide variety of foreign ad campaigns and share their real-life experiences with foreign language media, she noted.
“We were able to look at a publicity campaign from Mexico, and also an ad from Argentina that were both anti-tobacco,” Clifford said. “It created some good discussion, and... there were students there who have studied abroad—one student who did DukeEngage in Honduras, a few students who have lived in Spain.”
Luo, who chose to take the Mandarin Chinese lab, said he considers the labs more useful than a typical language class.
“The language groups allow students to really practice the foreign languages in a pragmatic manner,” Luo said. “Instead of learning about the literature of a country, you actually learn to use professional or technical terms, which are more relevant to our future careers.”
Because there are thus far only five languages offered, freshman Karishma Popli chose not to participate in the language labs this semester. She added that the labs seem like a lot of extra work, though she would participate in the program if more languages are offered in the future.
“They took a poll at the beginning of the year asking which languages people would prefer,” Popli noted. “I’m not fluent in any of the ones picked, and I didn’t want to take a language lab with people who are proficient in that language.”