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Global languages abound at U of T Scarborough

LANGUAGE FEAST: Students are pictured with Prof. Rena Helms-Park (centre), as interest in language courses has ballooned this summer. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Mary Ann Gratton

An explosion of interest in languages and linguistics at U of T Scarborough is fueling an unprecedented growth in the volume and range of courses offered this summer.

The department of humanities has almost doubled the number of summer language courses being offered, and is introducing courses for the first time in Tamil, Hindi, and Sanskrit. Other courses that continue to be offered are Arabic, French, Latin, Mandarin/Pinyin, and Spanish.

“We’re all very excited about the growth of interest in international languages on our campus,” said Prof. William Bowen, chair of the department of humanities. “These exciting new offerings in languages and linguistics are a reflection of the concerted effort of this campus to keep up with the times and to reflect the dynamic needs of our university and the surrounding community.”

Twenty-two courses are being offered to students this summer in six-week segments in a variety of languages, and many of those courses have long waiting lists as well. Four Spanish courses, two Arabic, two Latin, two Sanskrit, six courses in Mandarin for heritage and non-heritage students, two Hindi, two Tamil, and two Pinyin and simplified characters in Mandarin courses, comprise the 22 options. In addition, 11 French courses are being offered at a variety of levels, as well as a range of linguistics courses. Around 900 students are enrolled in language and linguistics courses at U of T Scarborough this summer.

“We looked at the demographics of our student body and of the area and then slowly began introducing new languages and language streams,” said Prof. Rena Helms-Park, coordinator of languages in the humanities department. “The popularity of these courses can be attributed to the fact that the languages have been carefully chosen to reflect either the demographic profile of the student population or to meet their career or spiritual needs.”

Learning another language appeals to many students majoring in International Development Studies, who require a second language to complete their degree, but she said that languages also appeal to a wide range of students. They include: those preparing for graduate school, those with interest in global business, those who want to travel for pleasure, and students who simply wish to broaden their horizons.

“We all need to think more globally, and one of a university’s responsibilities is to train students to be global citizens,” said Helms-Park. “It’s hard to be a true global citizen if you speak only one language, and the idea that everything should be filtered through English is a narrow perspective in this day and age. Learning another language provides people with a broader world view.”

Funding for the additional language courses is being supported through the Academic Initiative Fund (AIF) at the University of Toronto, which the humanities departments at U of T Scarborough and U of T Mississauga jointly applied to receive. “The demand for these courses is huge,” said Helms-Park. “This year we offered one course in Tamil, and before you know it the course was full and 37 people were on the waiting list. Our French courses have some 80 people on the waiting list, and the same with Spanish.”

Helms-Park said that her retired colleagues, John Corbett and Paul Kingston, were very supportive of an expansion of language offerings in the department and worked to support expansion. “Languages and linguistics are at the heart of humanities, so it is important and thrilling to be part of this growth,” she said. Plans are in place to hire more teachers of other languages and linguistics, and experts in specialties within those disciplines.

“We’re celebrating this feast of languages on our campus,” said Helms-Park. “Our students are tremendously excited by these courses, and they are voting with their feet.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough