Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Academics: Languages as a key to a global mindset

All SAIS students develop proficiency in at least one foreign language, choosing from among the 17 offered by the program. Like economics, languages have been part of SAIS's curriculum from the start. Below, Sara Gelmetti, director of SAIS Europe's language program, discusses the importance of languages at SAIS.

Q: Why are languages important at SAIS?
Gelmetti: Languages are an integral part of SAIS's curriculum. Top-notch preparation for a career in international relations requires the use of at least one foreign language for professional purposes. Mastering a foreign language implies learning about and adjusting to a new culture, which in turn fosters the development of a global mindset.

Q: What languages are taught?
Gelmetti: At SAIS Europe we offer beginner through advanced level courses in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. English is offered at the very advanced levels only, for those students who wish or need to perfect their academic language skills.

Q: How are they taught? And how do SAIS's language courses differ from such courses outside of SAIS?
Sara Gelmetti
Gelmetti: Learning languages at SAIS is a unique experience. Our courses not only fulfill the foreign language graduation requirement but also meet students’ professional needs. Our goal is to prepare students to be linguistically and professionally functional in their careers.

Our courses merge language skills with SAIS’s interdisciplinary curriculum through the integration of academic content from the non-language courses. A wide range of up-to-date materials on economics, energy, international relations, history and politics ensure that students develop the vocabulary they will find essential in their future careers. Students engage in debates, presentations and simulations in the target language.

Our language faculty is comprised of experienced and highly-trained professionals. We offer small classes (no more than 10 students per class) to make sure each student receives individualized attention.

Q: What help/guidance do students receive in choosing a language?
Gelmetti: All language faculty members are available for advising during the two weeks before the Fall semester registration deadline. Since SAIS regional concentrations require specific languages to meet their graduation requirements, students should read their program requirements and consult with their academic advisors.

Q: Which languages are the most challenging?
Gelmetti: It varies from individual to individual and depends largely on one's language background. At SAIS Europe we offer additional class time for languages like Arabic and Russian, which confront students with writing systems that are likely to be new to them and vocabulary that might be substantially different from that of their native language.

Q: How much language study do students need before applying?
Gelmetti: None! Aside from the English requirement for non-native English speakers, students can start a second language from scratch, at the very beginner level, and still reach the minimum proficiency level in four consecutive semesters of language instruction. Thus we urge students with no previous knowledge of a particular language to enroll in the “novice” level courses from their very first semester.

For students with a particularly strong language background, we are glad to guide them along an accelerated path and help them master yet another language.

(For more information on the language program, click here.)

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