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Summer language program gives beginners a place to start

July 12, 2017
By Whitney Helm

Center for Language Studies Summer Language Intensive Program

Marc Mercier had never spoken a word of Japanese until three weeks ago. The language was quite literally foreign, but after three weeks in Beloit College's Center for Language Studies summer intensive language program, he's able to read, write, and speak fundamental Japanese.

Marc was sent to participate in Beloit's summer language program by his employer, West Virginia-based Toyota, in order to prepare for an 18-month stint in Japan next year. He is one of 57 students, including 14 Beloit College students, to take one of three languages, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, offered this summer.

For nearly 35 years, the program has been enrolling students in two summer sessions for either 3.5 or seven weeks of language and cultural studies. The CLS program was launched under eighth College President Roger Hull and John Wyatt, a professor of classics at Beloit. It has featured more than nine different languages and a variety of professors from Beloit and other institutions throughout the years. Participants can earn the equivalent of one full year of academic credit for seven weeks of intensive study or one semester credit for the 3.5 week-long program.

"By simple virtue of having studied a foreign language, you will become a different person. You will not be the same person who arrived here on June 17," said Olga Ogurtsova, adjunct associate professor of Russian, at this summer's opening ceremony.

The program also provides a variety of cultural field days, when groups visit a local museum or historic site relevant to the language of study and students cook a traditional meal from that culture.

One field day trip was particularly eventful. In a longstanding tradition of the program, Olga took students to  Zhivago restaurant in Illinois where students staged a Russian wedding. Olga says the musician couldn't understand why the "bride" and "groom" wouldn't closely dance together or kiss during their wedding ceremony.

Pierce Rodriguez, a junior at The College of Wooster in Ohio, is currently participating in his second summer in the program. Studying Chinese since he was 12-years-old, Pierce has aspirations of being an ambassador. This summer, he was able to continue with the same teacher he had last summer.

Cindy Stear, along with daughter Carissa, 16, and son Camden, 14, of Rockford, Ill., all took the three-week course in Japanese this summer. For Cindy and Carissa, the course was preparation for a trip to Japan, while Camden had studied the language and wanted to continue learning.

"We learned a lot even though there's still a lot to learn," says Carissa.

Camden said despite his knowledge of the language, the program forced him to study hard in order to maintain his skills.

CLS will conclude its programing for the summer on August 4.