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African language summer institute empowers educators from across U.S.

Jun 2, 2023

When African language educators from around the country came to Indiana University Bloomington’s campus for an intensive workshop in May, many were skeptical of one of the teaching strategies presented: using the target language 90 percent of the time with students.

Dorothy Maweu, a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, leads peers in a language lesson during the National ... Dorothy Maweu, a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, leads peers in a language lesson during the National African Language Resource Center Summer Institute. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

“I thought it was absolutely impossible,” said Godfred Agyapong, an Akan language instructor in the University of Florida’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. “But this strategy was not just theoretical. We were given the opportunity to put it into practice through microteaching and I realized no, it works.”

Agyapong was one of 18 African language teachers who participated in the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies’ National African Language Resource Center Summer Institute this year. The annual two-week workshop helps teachers advance their skills as language instructors, drawing participants from across the country and virtually from Africa.

Educators get to try out the best practices and teaching strategies they learn through microteaching, which allows them to get immediate feedback on their lessons from other workshop participants.

“We offer a lot of different strategies for foreign language teaching that move away from old methods of grammar translation and giving lectures and focus on a student-centered classroom,” said Alwiya S. Omar, clinical professor of African studies and director of the National African Language Resource Center. “This is a testament to what IU offers; we are a leader in language teaching, but we are also a leader in teaching teachers.”

Iman Alramadan speaks at the front of a classroom Iman Alramadan, a senior lecturer at the Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, speaks during the National African Language Resource Center Summer Institute. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana UniversityThe National African Language Resource Center is a national hub for advancing African language instruction across the country, tasked with its mission by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program. The summer institute is just one example of how the center fulfills this national mission.

African languages are less commonly taught languages, despite Africa being on track to experience the largest population growth of any other continent. This means there’s likely to be increased demand for African language instruction in the future to prepare students for the global economy.

“Students who are taking these languages all have different goals,” said Kazeem Sanuth, associate director of the National African Language Resource Center. “Some of them want to work with NGOs, some want to work with government, some want to go to the target language country and work there. That’s why we want to continue to do this: to help the students achieve their future careers.”

In addition to language teaching strategies, the summer institute focuses on integrating African culture into language instruction. Agyapong said that was the greatest challenge he hoped to resolve during the workshop.

“How will I teach culture in context, in a place where we don’t have many native speakers of the language I’m teaching?” he said. “Language encompasses culture, but I was confused about how to teach both. This workshop solved that for me.”

Agyapong said he’s excited to share what he’s learned with his colleagues in Florida, which is one of the goals of the summer institute: letting others know about the National African Language Resource Center’s work.

“Africa at this point in time is considered the future,” Sanuth said. “Preparing the American population for what is to come is becoming an important part of African studies, and language learning has always been part of that education.”

Author

IU Newsroom

Barbara Brosher

Executive Director of Storytelling and Research Communications

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