African Cultural Studies

College of Letters & Science
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Other languages

We offer a year-long program designed for students to learn languages (or higher levels) that are not offered in typical classroom settings. You can learn any language! The only limit is your own motivation, effort, and resourcefulness.

In the Fall, students enroll in two courses:

  • African 670: Theories and Methods of Learning a Less Commonly Taught Language (2 credits). This course is both theoretical and practical. Through reading, discussion, and research, students will explore theories of second language acquisition (SLA) and relate them to self-instructional methods. Each student will test and/or modify one or more theories/methods by putting these self-instructional methods into practice in order to learn a less commonly taught language (LCTL). Students will share their findings in writing and during class discussions, and write a final paper assessing their learning outcomes. This course is intended for those with prior experience in the study of African languages, or advanced study of other foreign languages.
  • African 671: Multilanguage Seminar (4 credits). Monitored self-instruction of a less commonly taught language. Through weekly meetings, students discuss their use of self-instructional methods to learn a less commonly taught language (LCTL), get feedback on individualized syllabi and assessment plans, and present progress reports orally and in writing,

In the Spring, students repeat African 671, and can take it repeatedly in subsequent years.

Learn more about the course and some students' experiences in a story published by the Language Institute.

Languages/levels involved to date have included:

  • Amharic - intermediate
  • Arabic - beginning
  • Basaa - beginning
  • Luganda - beginning, intermediate, advanced
  • Kinyarwanda - beginning, intermediate, advanced
  • Kpelle - beginning
  • Sierra Leonean Krio - beginning
  • Somali - beginning
  • Swahili - fourth year
  • Yoruba - fourth year
  • Zulu - beginning

This course of study is FLAS eligible. Students are encouraged to contact Dr. Katrina Daly Thompson in advance of enrolling and/or applying for FLAS.

FAQs

What languages can I study?

  • You can study any language that is not offered as a regular classroom language offered at UW, or for which the level you need is not currently offered.

Do I need a conversation partner?

  • Most students do work with a conversation partner, though it is not required because it is not possible to find a conversation partner for all languages.

If the language I'm interested in is offered here, just not at the level I need, can I use an instructor of that language as my conversation partner?

  • If the instructor agrees to work with you in that way, yes. However, you will need to train your conversation partner to work with you on our own personalized goals rather than to function in the typical mode of a language instructor.

What kind of learner do I need to be to succeed in teaching myself a language?

  • You need to be self-motivated, disciplined, and willing to spend about 10 hours per week outside of class working on your language (whether on your own or with a conversation partner).

What are students saying about this course?

"I finally feel like I have access to resources and know how to tailor my language learning perfectly to meet my goals." — Regina Fuller, who studied Beginning Sierra Leonean Krio in 2016-17

"One of my friends asked everyone to say something that had been an important place of growth and/or something that had been giving them joy recently. And my first - honest! - answer to the question was just how much I am enjoying studying Luganda and how much intellectual growth I am getting from its study. Even when the weeks are bad, like this one, I know I am learning and I know it is expanding my understanding of Uganda and the world more broadly. How could that not bring me tons of joy?" — Lauren Marino, doctoral student studying Advanced Luganda in 2016-17.

"Before enrolling in the course, I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to find resources in my target language, but African 671 is a near-constant source of inspiration for me. First, it encouraged me to take advantage of the resources immediately available to me- language-learning textbooks, direct sources in the target language, and L1 speakers in the local community-, but, more importantly, listening to my classmates describe their language-learning activities directed me to resources I might not have thought of on my own, including Peace Corps manuals, national radio stations and news sites, and television shows, music videos, and cooking shows! Although we may not all be studying the same language, as is often the case, we are mutually learning to study a language. And having this sounding board to bounce ideas off of and to garner new ones is perhaps the best resource African 671 has to offer. Finally, the class is also arranged, so that if students cannot find the desired resources within their target language or that accommodate their learning styles, they are always encouraged to invent their own, as evidenced in our language-learning websites, as well as our own unique systems for tracking our personal goals and assessing our progress." — Kathryn Mara, doctoral student who studied Kinyarwanda for two years, at the Intermediate and Advanced levels

"Over the last year the 670 readings and discussion topics have really helped me become much better at one of my part-time jobs! I tutor a seventh grader ... who was failing all of his classes when we first met. His teachers had basically given up on him and were convinced he had some sort of learning disability. However, I started working with [him] as I was discovering my own learning style and strategies to language learning that worked best for me in your class, and I think it made more sensitive to and aware of [his] responses to particular activities. It soon became apparent which approaches to learning and retaining information worked best for [him], and I tailored my approach to tutoring to compliment his needs. At the beginning of each week [he] makes a list of all the things he needs/wants to accomplish that week, and beneath each task I have him write out the specific things he needs to do to earn a B or better on that assignment (his personal goal). I feel like I channel [Dr. Thompson] each week, when I say, "studying for your spelling test for 30 minutes is too vague. How will you study? What activities will you do?" And sure enough he will come up with 3-4 great, concrete, ideas. Since incorporating this exercise into his weekly routine, [he] has totally turned things around and is earning all As and Bs. It has been really exciting to watch.  ... I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of this course, and it has helped me far beyond my own language learning." — Lindsay Ehrisman, doctoral student who studied Intermediate Luganda in 2014-15 and Advanced Luganda in 2015-16.

Looking for language-learning resources?

Check out the book reviews that students in African 670 have written, websites they've made to help other learners, or videos with tips on self-instructional language learning.