PCC place to be in Year of Languages
Arizona Daily Star
Dec. 25, 2004
College plays role in boosting study of foreign tongues
By Inger Sandal

Tucsonans searching for a New Year's resolution that is increasingly easy to keep and would do them a lot of good should consider learning a new language.

That advice comes from Dolores Durán-Cerda, a Pima Community College Spanish instructor who says there has never been a better time than 2005 - which is when the Year of Languages in the United States is being celebrated.
Durán-Cerda represents Arizona in the national initiative to publicize the benefits - educational, social, cultural and economic - that Americans receive by becoming proficient in other languages. A U.S. Senate resolution provided the official call to promote and expand foreign language study in elementary and secondary schools, institutions of higher learning, businesses and government programs.
The effort comes as the number of American college students studying foreign languages is at a record high, while at the same time many foreign-language programs for the nation's elementary-school children - the most critical age to learn a new language - have had deep cuts, said Durán-Cerda, who belongs to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
An earlier start would make students more proficient by the time they reach college, she said. "They'd be able to do more with their languages and their careers. It's a domino effect," she said. "They'd be taking more advanced classes, not just the basic introductory level."
In Arizona, she said, second-language educators are calling for the adddition of a second-language coordinator within the state Department of Education, who would work with districts to ensure that all require second-language studies and to get funding for them. Arizona is one of only three states without such oversight, Durán-Cerda said.
The Year of Languages will also include a range of activities across the state, including many that are still being planned. One of the first will be a Year of Languages festival at PCC's Downtown Campus on April 28 that will include entertainment and language booths offering mini-lessons, Durán-Cerda said. For example, students could play language-learning games, learn mini-conversations and practice writing their names in Chinese, she said.
The Downtown campus offers 13 languages, and tries to add more sections - at convenient times - each semester, she said. Many students transfer for-credit courses to the University of Arizona, but the classes are increasingly drawing more nontraditional students.
Last semester Ivonne Ramirez, 23, spent three evenings a week at that campus as part of Hassan Hijazi's new beginning Arabic class.
"I want to study linguistics, and as many languages as you can take is great," said Ramirez, whose first language was Spanish. Learning Russian gave her the confidence to try Arabic, and she also speaks German in addition to English.
While Ramirez is still more the exception than the rule - 9.3 percent of Americans speak two languages proficiently, compared with 53 percent of Europeans - greater numbers of American college students are taking up foreign languages.
In 2003, 1.4 million college students took a foreign-language class at two- and four-year institutions, the highest number ever recorded and a 17.9 percent increase since 1998, according to the Modern Languages Association. That includes less-studied languages such as Arabic, which has gone up 92.5 percent nationally.
That same year 4,281 students enrolled in 212 for-credit language courses at the various Pima College campuses ranging from French and Chinese to Russian and Tohono O'odham. By last fall that had increased to 4,578 students taking 223 courses, including two new Arabic sections. Spanish remains by far the most popular, with more than 3,000 students taking 139 courses, records show
In addition, the college serves hundreds of non-credit students through its Community Education program, largely conversational Spanish courses, and through customized business and industry language courses, such as Spanish for Bankers, Pima College officials said.
"It's an irreversible trend. It's a necessity," said PCC Chancellor Roy Flores, an economist who said it's essential that Americans learn other languages to remain competitive in the global market.
"We're going to be almost like Europe, where before too long the average person will know two or three different languages and think nothing of it," he said. "I think that's the way it's going to be in the future if for no other reason than simply because of commerce. The fact is that the world is more interconnected now than ever before."
Students should start learning other languages as early as possible, said Flores, who grew up speaking both Spanish and English, and as an opera fan has long wanted to learn Italian. "I think foreign languages should be required, beginning with the first day in class."
Flores also contends that would help American students better understand English - an idea supported by the College Entrance Examination Board, which found students with four or more years in foreign-language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test than students who did not.
There are many reasons why people take up a new language, said Durán-Cerda, from boosting marketability to learning a few phrases for that dream vacation (Italian was up this fall, PCC records show.)
Hijazi, who is also the UA's assistant director of federal relations, said several military personnel from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base took his Arabic 101 class in the fall, wanting to learn a few words before they went overseas. The college is offering an introductory Arabic class for D-M personnel in the spring, and plans to introduce a conversational Arabic class for beginners this spring.
Student Steve Aldred, 40, said he'd always been interested in the Middle East and would like to travel there some day. Aldred, who learned Cantonese while living in Hong Kong, also teaches English at PCC. "I think it's useful for me to go into the classroom and experience what my students are experiencing," he said.
Carl Noggle, 64, speaks Spanish and has taken Russian and German because he likes learning languages. Arabic posed a new challenge. "I like it a lot, actually. It's really cool. It's quite a bit different from those other languages," he said.
Arabic will be K-Leigh Shaw's sixth language. The 26-year-old picked up some of the language from friends, and was auditing Hijazi's class. Languages make you more versatile in the work force and give you a better understanding of global issues, she said.
Meheria Habibi, 20, grew up in Afghanistan speaking Farsi, and learned Urdu while living in Pakistan. The PCC computer-science student now speaks fluent English, and wants to learn Arabic in part because her fiance is from Iraq.
One day, Habibi said, she wants to study French. "I have always wanted to learn it."
● Contact reporter Inger Sandal at 573-4115 or isandal@azstarnet.com .


Info online
● To learn more: www.yearof languages.org
● To learn more about Arizona activities: www.coh.ari zona.edu/pal