Global Language Initiative encourages increased globalism

Daniel Schlessinger, Reporter

In an effort to coordinate language and cultural studies across all Northwestern schools, the University is introducing the Global Languages Initiative, a program promoting intercultural and multilingual skills.

The program, led by Profs. Katrin Volkner and Penny Nichols, is the result of many years of development and numerous grants, including a Hewlett Foundation grant for its website. It is largely an extension of the Council on Language Instruction, which helps coordinate the efforts of the NU language departments.

Volkner, a senior lecturer in NU’s German department and director of the Multimedia Learning Center and Nichols, a senior lecturer in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, said multilingualism is increasingly important as globalism becomes a more prominent aspect of life. As of 2009, about one in five Americans spoke a second language, as compared to one in three Europeans, according to articles from The New York Times and Euro Politics.

“If we really are preparing our students to be global citizens and global leaders, then an essential ingredient in that would be language,” said Nichols.

Although not all NU undergraduate schools have language proficiency requirements, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences requires six quarters of foreign language classes, and the Medill School of Journalism requires three. Volkner and Nichols said they do not wish to add more language requirements, but they did express strong interest in engaging students from schools other than Weinberg in multilingualism.

“This started with Weinberg, but the idea is that the dialogue would be across all the other schools,” Nichols said. “What role could languages play for a McCormick student, or a Medill journalist, or even a Kellogg student?”

The program was designed around NU’s 2011 Strategic Plan objectives, which included global and community engagement. GLI Global engagement outreach plans for this fall involve multicultural events held at the Rock, free international film screenings at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, and various speakers throughout the year.

To engage the community, the GLI already has a student advisory board of globally engaged students representing all NU schools, as well as a website and a Facebook group. The website will help organize resources involving NU’s 23 foreign language programs, study abroad opportunities, research on the benefits of multilingualism and alumni who use foreign languages for work.

“Alumni are often surprised in looking back in what ways language has enriched their lives,” Volkner said. “It opens doors professionally even if you don’t use it every day.”