Heritage Language classes in jeopardy

    In an effort to maintain the Heritage Language Program, student organizations and the linguistics department are discussing ways to raise funds for the language courses offered within the program designed for students known as heritage speakers.

    The program, which teaches language and culture to students that have grown up in homes using a language other than English, consists of courses in Armenian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

    “Our enrollment is up again this semester,” Linguistics Department Chair Robert Kleunder said. “It’s going really well, and we’d like to maintain it. We don’t want to cut back, and we want to offer as many levels of the language as we can.”

    Currently, there are three full sections in Vietnamese, one full section each in Korean and Armenian, and two full sections each in Tagalog and Persian.

    The program is the first of its kind, offering a single, coordinated program for heritage language students. With the state’s budget cuts and the fact that heritage language classes are fairly new in the department, funding for the courses is especially vulnerable, according to Kleunder.

    Primary funding for the program comes from the social sciences department. However, because those teaching in the program are not regular faculty, the department uses a temporary instructor budget for instructor salaries.

    “Until [the department] has an established program that gets funded on a regular basis, because the programs are still in the process of growing, I have to take that out of my temporary instructor budget,” Kleunder said. “Currently, the temporary allocations for next year are tight.”

    The linguistics department is currently meeting with several student organizations that are interested in raising funds for the classes.

    According to Kleunder, it is of academic interest for the university to support the program.

    “Second-language acquisition is an interesting area of research,” Kleunder said. “Heritage language speakers, the conversation strategies that they use, and the compensation strategies that they use … are very similar across the languages.”

    Students that are currently working on fundraising for heritage language courses stress the program’s importance to the community.

    “For the students … it’s a chance to get in touch with their heritage and culture, and at the same time to get UC credits,” said Frank Vuong, Vietnamese Student Association vice president external. “If you want students to graduate and become effective leaders, we need to be able to communicate to the Vietnamese community.”

    According to Vuong, the university should provide Vietnamese classes because there exists a high demand among students. Vuong and other students are currently working on approaching community business owners and applying for grants.

    “The number of students who sign up for the classes is overwhelming,” Vuong said. “It’s an obligation of the university to fulfill student demands and answer the general ethnographic demand of the community.”

    Students taking Tagalog classes are also looking for ways to raise funds for the courses and have formed the group Pilipino Students Saving Tagalog 2004 in order to find different ways to raise money.

    “It’s important to learn about our culture,” said Jorieth Jose, a coordinator of PSST 2004. “[The classes] are the best outlet for us to learn about our language and our culture.”

    Plans include asking community members for donations, car washes and a benefit banquet.

    “The university should support [the classes] because they support languages such as Spanish, and why should this be any different?” Jose said. “There are a lot of Filipinos in San Diego and the university shouldn’t neglect that.”

    The Persian Club is planning a black-tie dinner and community outreach to raise funds.

    “The class is important in that many in this generation may know how to speak, but very few know how to read or write,” said Soheil Attari, vice president of the Persian Club. “The ability to communicate is an invaluable asset. We need to realize there’s more to our education than math and science — there’s our own personal culture.”

    Members of the Armenian Student Association will also be holding mixers, dinner dances, concerts and other events at the Armenian Church in San Diego to raise money for the classes.

    The Heritage Western Armenian class was the first class to be established within the program. According to ASA president Mike Gedjeyan, students learn about Armenian culture and history that might not be available elsewhere.

    “A typical Armenian student who is a product of the American school system doesn’t learn much about his or her own history, language and culture,” Gedjeyan said. “This class offers such an experience for students in that situation. Students are invited to take the course to learn more about Armenian culture, heritage and history. They also learn how to read, write and speak the language.”

    According to Kleunder, the linguistics department is also planning to meet with all of the student organizations involved in fundraising, in order to exchange ideas and work together.

    “I think of it also as an educational exercise in political organization,” Kleunder said. “It’s a really good opportunity to bring student organizations together, working together to achieve that common goal. It’s also a good lesson in collective action in order to achieve a political goal.”

    Many of the students involved pointed to high demand for the classes.

    “We have wireless Internet on Library Walk, hands-free paper towel dispensers in the bathroom — yet we can’t afford to save a class which students actually want?” Attari said. “How many math classes do you see students fighting to keep?”

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