By Andrew Boryga
Special to UM News
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 27, 2017)—What happens when a student wants to study a foreign language like Vietnamese or Dutch, but the university doesn’t offer courses in it? Where do they turn if Rosetta Stone doesn’t cut it for them?
The answer at most universities across the country isn’t always clear, but at the University of Miami, Maria Kosinski will point them to the Directed Independent Language Study (DILS) program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
DILS provides students of all majors and in any year of study with the opportunity to learn a language not offered in the course catalog. Each group of students, usually less than five, meet twice a week for an hour and are directed by native speakers known as Language Partners. Kosinski, director of DILS, said these partners are usually hired within the university or from the larger Miami community.
When the program first began 2009, DILS offered only three language choices: Haitian Creole, Levantine Arabic, and Russian. Now, students can choose from more than 30 languages, including Cantonese, Punjabi, Yoruba, and Polish. Kosinski said she is always open to expanding the list.
“If there are at least two students interested in a language, I will do my best to make sure we can offer it,” she said.
To celebrate the diversity of the program’s languages and culture, DILS students gather for DILS’ Annual International Multicultural Night. Held last Friday at the Shalala Student Center, the event showcased the diversity of the languages through dance, food, pop-culture presentations, storytelling, poetry readings, travel narratives, and more.
Kosinski said students who benefit the most from DILS are disciplined and committed to investing time into a new language. After all, the program is self-directed and students do not receive academic credit for their work—although their participation is noted on their transcripts. But even so, Kosinski insists the potential rewards can have more impact on a student’s life than a GPA score. Many DILS students end up using their new language skills to travel abroad or even work in another country, she said.
Elena Chudnovskaya, a Russian language partner, is a graduate student who joined DILS in 2014. In her weekly sessions with students, she said she focuses on helping them learn phrases and building their capacity to have conversations with each other. As a supplement to language work, she also exposes students to Russian cartoons, traditions, and typical foods.
“The purpose is to immerse the students into the Russian language and culture as much as possible,” said Chudnovskaya. “It is a great pleasure to share my culture with them.”
Jeffrey Stewart, an undergraduate completing his fourth semester in DILS, initially studied Russian to communicate better with a friend from Kazakhstan. He is now studying Egyptian and Levantine Arabic because he hopes to pursue a career where these Arab dialects are spoken.
But until then, he says, he is content to have a “much deeper appreciation for other languages and cultures, as well as a desire to be a lifelong language learner.”
And that’s the goal, according to Kosinski. “We want to give students an opportunity to immerse themselves in a program where they can learn, study, and absorb languages from all over the world. The experience is rich and students always leave with skills and new ways of thinking that can have real, positive effects on their lives and future careers.”