Maryland today | What you need: the language house

It’s pretty nerve-wracking moving into a new apartment on campus with strangers. Who’s going to take out the trash? Who has a car for shopping? Who controls the thermostat?

Now imagine having those conversations in Japanese, or Spanish, Russian, or Chinese.

This is the student experience of the Language House Living and Learning Program, which connects undergraduate students with peers learning the same language so they can practice around the clock.

“Anyone who wants to improve their language skills can participate in this program,” said director Marilyn Matar. “For those who can’t travel to other countries, you can get a slice of that immersion. We are like a big host family.

The “house”, aka St. Mary’s Hall, is an apartment-style residence that typically hosts around 80 students speaking 10 languages: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, and Persian, in addition to those listed above. apply and pass an intermediate oral proficiency interview are allocated apartments based on language.Each cluster has a liaison teacher from the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, as well as a native speaker mentor (usually a graduate student) who organizes cultural activities.

Matar and Indy Dorman ’24, a sociology and Japanese double major who lived at the Language House for two and a half years, discuss the challenges of creating a fully immersive environment, how food and going out in the field can help reinforce coursework and the career benefits of speaking another language.

Indy Dorman: “Jarring” sounds negative, but it’s a good way to describe membership in the House of Language. I had to figure out how to maneuver: can I take a shower now? What are you cooking? Should we go shopping tonight?

In class, there are only certain topics you will talk about, and only up to an hour and 15 minutes to talk about them. When you leave class, most people on campus speak English. But at home, you can practice a new grammar point or new vocabulary you’ve learned and improve your fluency.

marilyn mater: It’s definitely not like the classroom. It can be intimidating and frustrating because you can’t find the words. But there’s no pressure to perform because you’re not graded on every sentence. I tell them: make mistakes. Once you make a mistake and keep moving forward, you are more comfortable. It’s a very forgiving environment.

We give them little tips. Change their phone and listen to music in the language. Some mentors will create a Twitter page, where students tweet in Japanese. Or they will create a WhatsApp group, where the mentor will send a “Hello!” text in French or a funny meme in German.

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