While learning a foreign language is already a challenge, students at the University are opting to study more unique, lesser-known tongues ranging from Swahili, Urdu and Filipino to Yiddish, Ukrainian and American Sign Language.
According to Global Michigan — a web portal that provides updates on study abroad projects and multicultural activities at the University — there are more than 65 languages available for students at the University to explore, many of which are unavailable at other colleges.
Ukrainian Prof. Rogovyk, the University’s Slavic Language Program coordinator, created one of the only academic minor programs in Ukrainian Studies in North America. She plays an active role in researching the University’s language programs and analyzing how students are distributed throughout the courses.
Though the University offers a plethora of languages, approximately 75 percent of students studying a foreign language at the University are enrolled in Spanish classes, according to Rogovyk.
She noted that she believes many students are in a rush to fulfill the LSA’s four-term proficiency requirement, and feel Spanish is the easiest option since many have already been exposed to the language.
With only seven students enrolled in her Ukrainian classes, Rogovyk said the light student interest may be a result of lack of awareness about the Ukrainian culture.
“People simply do not know much about the country itself,” she said. “The literature was not well translated at one point because (Ukraine) used to be part of the Soviet Union. Even if (it was) a Ukrainian author, it (was) translated as Russian.”
Due to the small class sizes, Rogovyk said her students are part of a tight-knit community, noting that her students make occasional trips to her home to learn more about Ukrainian culture.
Despite her desire for students to be more curious about less common languages, she lauded the interest of students to learn new languages.
“I think the more languages you know, the more intelligent you are because you are learning not only the language, but you’re learning the culture with it,” Rogovyk said. “It’s like buy one, get one free.”
LSA sophomore Jamie Nadel, who studies Yiddish, said he appreciates small class sizes because it offers more one-on-one attention to each student.
“The professors are amazing and it is a very tight-knit community … not too many people are interested in Yiddish so we grab onto the people that are,” he said.
While studying a less common language has its benefits, Nadel said finding textbooks can be tricky.
“Textbooks can be a little expensive, but they are not exactly diverse in their teaching method so they can be a little confusing,” Nadel said.
Rachel Ross, an LSA sophomore concentrating in Judaic Studies, said a disadvantage of pursuing a less commonly taught language is its lack of applicability.
“If you don’t have a specialization in that area, or if you’re not planning on going to the small countries or cities that speak that one dialect or that one particular language, then you really won’t be able to practice it,” she said.
Ross said while it can be hard to find practical uses for unique languages, like Swahili or Sanskrit, they provide an insight into other parts of the world.
“You are opening your mind up to different aspects of smaller areas of a certain culture (more so) than if you would have just learned it from a history book,” Ross aid.
Asian Languages and Cultures lecturer Zenaida Fulgencio said though Filipino isn’t a language used globally, it could one day become more commonly used, especially with its ties to Spanish.
“Language always changes. It changed in the past and it changes in the present,” Fulgencio said.
LSA sophomore Isha Iyer, who is studying Hindi, said the variety of language courses helps prepare students for the competitive nature of today’s world.
“The University offers such a wide range of language courses to enable students to become more active members of our increasingly globalized world,” she said. “Michigan is always striving to create a well-rounded generation of students, and language learning is a crucial part of any education.”
Elise Lawley, an LSA sophomore studying sign language, said she enjoys learning a unique language because it brings attention to a deserving community of people.
“I find it fascinating to learn (about) a culture that is overlooked most of the time,” Lawley said. “They have a language that should be respected just as much as Spanish or German.”
—Danielle Raykhinshteyn contributed to this report.