Skip to main content

IU program builds bridges between communities through language learning

Apr 10, 2018

Description of the following video:

 [Video: Six elementary-aged students, assisted by parents and instructors, stand at the front of the room holding balloons attached to propellers.]

[The instructor, Rachel Myers counts to three in Russian, ” один, два, три,” and all of the kids let go of the balloons and they shoot up with a high-pitched squealing noise. All of the children giggle and go to collect their balloons.]


[Video: Parent volunteer and native speaker Max Pirogov is interviewed on screen with his daughter sitting on his lap.]

[Pirogov speaks: The name is Bridges right, so its kind of building bridges

[Video: Pirogov sits in a circle with all of the children and another instructor singing and dancing with the children.]

[Pirogov speaks:

[Video: Suriati Abas, the Bridges program coordinator is interviewed on screen]

[Abas speaks:

[Video: In a different classroom, another instructor, Ali Alsmadi , sits in front of a different group of elementary-aged students.]

[Video: one of the students hops down hopscotch tiles laid out on the floor. The instructors help him from the side, and the other students sit watching also repeating the vocabulary. When the student gets to the end, everyone claps.]

[Abas speaks:

[Video: The first set of students sit around Myers as she holds up a flashcard with a white square and you hear her say “белый.” All of the students jump up and run around the room to find other cards with white on them.]

[Video: Ali Alsmadi, IU grad student, native Arabic speaker, and volunteer instructor is interviewed on screen.]

[Alsmadi speaks:

[Video: Alsmadi is shown now with the children sitting at desks, handing the students candy out of a basket for every right answer they give.]

[Alsmadi speaks:

[Video: Emily Vetne, and IU undergrad and volunteer instructor, is interviewed on screen.]

[Vetne speaks:

[Video: Alsmadi and Vetne, sit in the semi-circle with the students and work with a very young student sitting on her mother lap. The student repeats after the instructors and the mother hugs her child. Vetne and Alsmadi smile at each other.]

[Video: Alsmadi is interviewed on screen.]

[Alsmadi speaks:

[All of the students in Alsmadi and Vetne’s class sit in a row at desks. Alsmadi walks by all of them giving them high fives. Vatne says good bye in Arabic to all of the students and you hear the youngest student in the class shout “وداعا” back, saying goodbye.]


[Video: The Indiana University trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]

[Words appear:]

With every hop on a hopscotch square comes a number in Arabic, with every number comes a color, with every color comes a fruit, and with every hop comes learning. This is the approach the instructors of the “Bridges: Children, Languages, World” project take to ignite the passion for language and culture in young learners.

The Bridges project started at Indiana University in 2009 and connects volunteer students and faculty to children and families in the community eager to learn a foreign language. Focusing on lesser-taught languages, the project focused this semester on Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Japanese.

“The hope is for this program to bring us all together to expose the children of the community to different languages and different cultures,” said Suriati Abas, coordinator of the Bridges program.

For volunteers like Emily Vetne, an IU Bloomington undergraduate studying Holocaust history and Islamic studies, building bridges is a concept that stretches beyond language learning classes to serve as a connection between the campus and community.

“It’s such a good way to integrate campus life but also off-campus life and feel more at home in the city of Bloomington as well as on campus,” she said.

The first step is to teach basics of the language, and that is done mainly through games and activities for the students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade.

It is the opportunity to work with some of the youngest learners that appeals to volunteer instructor Rachel Myers, a graduate student at IU Bloomington.

“When I was growing up, I really wanted to take language classes, but there weren’t really opportunities for little kids in my community,” said Myers, who grew up in Wooster, Ohio. “It’s really exciting to see these kids start to get excited about Russian.”

Another vital component of the program is teaching cultural aspects, which is near and dear to many of the instructors. IU graduate student Ali Alsmadi, a native Arabic speaker, grew up in Jordan. While looking for opportunities to extend out from his studies at IU, he found Bridges and quickly realized he can learn just as much from the kids as they can from him.

“It was the flavor I was always looking for, to be able to be teaching kids through games and activities,” Alsmadi said. “I think it’s a dimension we can all bring into our classrooms.”

Bridges offered five languages this semester and hopes to offer more in the future by way of community partnerships and volunteers. More information can be found on the Bridges’ Facebook page.

Media Contact

IU Newsroom

Aubrey Gibson

News & Media Intern, IU Bloomington

More stories

Administration,Arts and Humanities,Health and Wellness,Science and Technology

IU secured $772M in sponsored research awards in 2023

News at IU