Column: UA's language programs lacking as world develops

Odds are, you’ve probably heard or seen the word “namaste”—likely in conjunction with Lululemon or a washed out Instagram filter—in the last few weeks. You may even have a friend with an “Om” tattoo on his or her ankle.

People find these words beautiful and exotic; but do you even know what they mean, let alone what language they are?

Hindi is the official language of India—the world’s second most populous country. India, with a population of 1.2 billion people, is expected to surpass China as the nation with the world’s largest population in the next seven years.

With 310 million native speakers, Hindi is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world behind Mandarin, Spanish and English. That figure doesn’t even include speakers of other Indic languages like Urdu—spoken in much of India and Pakistan—that are mutably intelligible with spoken Hindi.

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Yet, despite its massive prevalence and rising global importance, the UA does not deem Hindi an important enough language to teach in a formal classroom setting.

The foreign languages formally offered by the UA include French, Italian, German, Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and American Sign Language. Sadly, nearly every one of these languages is of European origin.

While studying any foreign language is undeniably useful, such a Eurocentric focus only provides students with a narrow linguistic and cultural perspective of the world.

Aside from Spanish and Mandarin, Hindi surpasses every one of the offered UA languages in terms of number of speakers. In fact, Hindi is almost five times as widely spoken as Italian, one of the most “standard” classes taught at American universities.

Sure, Hindi is offered as a part of UA’s Critical Language Program, which also teaches other lesser-taught languages like Modern Greek, Korean, Polish and Vietnamese, among others.

The CLP is a great initiative to provide students the opportunity to study languages like Hindi, but sadly, its services don’t compare to those of established language departments.

I took two semesters of Hindi with the CLP and, though I was grateful to be introduced to the language, I found the program severely lacking.

First, course fees for CLP classes are hundreds of dollars per semester—far higher and more prohibitive than those of standard language courses.

Second, my class only met once per week, and usually let out early in under an hour. Such an environment is not conducive to language learning, as languages are best learnt with daily classroom exposure.

Lastly, we had no professor. My class was taught by a native-speaking graduate student, and our exams were taken via Skype with a professor at UCLA.

While any of these issues were preferable to not being able to learn Hindi—or another critical language—at all, the lacking structure, especially in comparison to that of formal language classes, impeded my ability to be a successful language learner.

One of the most unfortunate issues with the Hindi program as it stands is that, because there is no professor, the class is entirely interest based—meaning that if too few students sign up, the program could cease to exist entirely.

The university does its students a disservice by only allowing them to take formal, professor-taught courses in mainly European languages. The UA needs to teach and encourage the learning of Hindi in a better established, professor-led and permanent setting.

If the second language requirement is meant to prepare students for the work force and teach them how to engage in global cultures, then Hindi should be at the forefront of lectures offered at the UA.

Students who learn Hindi gain access to poetry, ancient religious texts, media and entry into some of the largest business and tech markets in the world. UA students deserve those resources as well as the knowledge that Hindi is a vital language useful far beyond the yoga studio.


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