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Enriching education one language at a time

Blake Bouza


Volunteer State Community College has four foreign language programs available to students: Chinese, Spanish, French, and also English.

“As a native English speaker, we don’t often think of English as a foreign language, but for many students it is,” said Suzanne Previte, Director of the Language Center.

“We no longer use the ESL (English as a Second Language) acronym. For many of the students here English is not their second language,” said Previte.

Previte said that for many students English may be the third or even sixth language that they are learning.

“The new acronym that I tend to use is ELL (English Language Learners),” she said.

This new acronym focuses on the fact that these students are simply learning English as another language as opposed to focusing on the fact that they are non-native speakers, Previte said.

“So often with non-native speakers in any language wherever they go, native speakers will often-times not correct or discuss the language, they will instead smile and nod and walk away,” Previte said.

“We [in the Language Center] don’t nod our heads and walk away. We help them to recognize what they are saying and say it over and over until they get it down,” said Previte.

Michelle Vandiver-Lawrence, Associate Professor of Spanish, has taught the Spanish language for 16 years at Volunteer State.

On the subject of incorporating culture into her class, Vandiver-Lawrence said that she draws from her own personal experiences through travel and studying abroad, as well as the interactions she has had with her native Spanish-speaking friends.

“Language without culture is math for me. Certainly it works, but without the connection to the culture, we miss the feel of the language,” said Vandiver-Lawrence.

Vandiver-Lawrence further quoted a Czech proverb, “‘Learn a new language, get a new soul.’ Language is about communication and understanding those unwritten rules.  I do my best to somehow incorporate culture in every single class.”

Qi Yang, Professor of Chinese, is originally from China. She came to Vol State last fall via the International Education Program at Vol State and the cultural program China has established at Middle Tennessee State University.

Yang said that learning another language is really all up to the person trying to learn it.

“The most famous translator in China right now is Canadian. If you were to hear him speak Mandarin, you would never think he wasn’t Chinese. No accent at all,” said Yang.

Yang went on to say that each language will have influence on other languages because, “the world is a global village and because of that we will influence each other.”

It is especially important for Americans to learn a foreign language, Yang implored.

“Americans have a very strong influence on the world. In Chinese cities, you will see Americans everywhere,” she said.

In Yang’s home city alone, there are five American-based companies, and her daughter works in public relations at an American company in Shanghai.

“For American people if you want to find a good job, you better learn. You can receive a higher salary for a job in China for the same job you would find here,” said Yang.

“I have a student here, a Hispanic girl, who is moving to Austin, Texas to take Chinese as a major at her university,” Yang said.

She advised her student this was a wise course of action.

“If you can speak Chinese, Spanish, and English: you are the job candidate of the future,” Yang said.

Susan Rockwood taught French for 30 years in high school before becoming the Associate Professor of French at Vol State this semester.

Rockwood felt that there are two important and practical reasons for learning a second language.

“You come to appreciate the country you live in and you learn more about the English language. You can improve your command of English when you compare it to a foreign language,” said Rockwood.

Rockwood has been studying French since the 7th grade and says that one of the reasons she enjoys it so much is that there is always more to learn.

“One of the reasons I like it so much, even now, is that you can’t stop learning the language,” said Rockwood.

“There is the study of the literature, the culture and the history. I love to hear the language and learn from those who know more than I do,” Rockwood said.

Rockwood said she believed learning the language itself often illuminates its culture.  

“The literature shows it and the study of history as well. The vocabulary we study evokes cultural discussions.”  

Rockwood said that the best way to experience French culture is to visit French-speaking countries.

Students at Vol state have many opportunities to do that, and study at many other countries, through the Tennessee Consortium of International Studies.

Dr. Kenny Yarbrough, Director of Student Life and Diversity Initiatives, said that one of the goals of his office is to promote diversity and inclusion not just at Vol State but for the whole community.

“By learning other cultural values and references, individuals can expand their mindset and understanding. This, in-turn, leads to a greater appreciation of differences and understanding values,” Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough said that if Vol State as a community continues to forge pathways to educate and enlighten the community, then the campus is providing individuals with the means to understand and value the importance of differences.

Unity Day, the Hispanic Fiesta, International Education Week, and Around the World in a Day, are just a few cultural events on-campus that highlight and showcase diverse cultures that the entire community has the opportunity to attend, Yarbrough said.

Numerous resources are offered on-campus to help students learning a foreign language.

“There is a Chinese language collection in the main lobby in addition to databases in the Tennessee Electronics Library, a program called Power Speak,” said Laura Sheets, Instruction Coordinator at the Thigpen Library.

“This is available to all Tennesseans, not just at Vol State,” Sheets said.

Rosetta Stone is offered in the Language Center free for all the foreign languages offered at Vol State.

The importance of learning a second language cannot be understated for Vandiver-Lawrence, whose friend’s husband had a stroke in his early 20s.

“Both speak Spanish as a first language. The stroke affected the man’s ability to speak his first language but not his second. His wife even had to translate for him and his parents who did not know English,” said Vandiver-Lawrence.

The man eventually recovered his first language.

Hannah Batchelder, student at Vol State, encouraged students to take a foreign language.

“If you don’t try it you won’t know how much you like it. So many people in Spanish 2 are only taking it because they like it so much,” said Batchelder, who is in her third semester of studying the Spanish language.

Batchelder said that almost everything she knows now about the Spanish language and culture has come from her Spanish class.

“Just try it. I didn’t want to take Spanish, and I’m really glad I did. I had so much fun with it that I decided to take it as my elective,” Batchelder said.

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