Junior Desislava Iolova knows seven languages, but wanted to learn more Monday night — at least as many new words as she could in 15 minutes.
“I love learning languages, but I’m focusing on my major, so I have to learn them in my free time at events like these,” Iolova, an electrical engineering major, said. “I like to know a little bit of each language just in case I meet someone and have the opportunity to have a conversation with them.”
Professors from Pitt’s Less Commonly Taught Languages Center — or LCTL — provided more than 90 students with 15-minute language lessons and snacks in the Lower Lounge and Kurtzman Room of the William Pitt Union. Of the over 40 languages Pitt offers, the event, which ran from 6 to 8 p.m., featured 12 of the 16 less commonly taught languages at the University.
Several stations switched between languages, allowing up to 10 participants at once to experience a fast-paced exposure to languages and cultures, while getting to know professors and different language program options.
Claude Mauk, director of the LCTL, and Gretchen Aiyangar, a language program coordinator for LCTL, brainstormed the “speed-dating lessons” together with no real expectations for how their event would turn out.
Professors prepared their own lessons and practiced teaching each other at a faculty meeting a few weeks beforehand, ultimately using flashcards and interactive activities to provide each group with a basic introduction to the languages they teach at Pitt.
“It’s not easy to teach for such a short amount of time and have them walk away with something tangible,” Aiyangar said. “It gives students the opportunity to try out a language instead of being exposed for the first time in the classroom.”
Students learned lessons ranging from greetings and introducing themselves to asking where someone lives and whether they like or dislike a certain color.
Professors shared facts about the languages as well, displaying maps of the countries where the languages are spoken and explaining differences between English and the languages represented at the event. Filipo Lubua, a Swahili professor at Pitt, taught students the protocol for greeting each other and saying “goodbye” in Swahili.
“The best way to learn another culture is through the language,” Lubua said. “Language carries everything a culture has.”
Quechua is a language spoken in Peru and parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador by the Quechua people in the South East Andes. At its station during the event, participants practiced counting to four and naming types of food.
Quechua professor Alana DeLoge said it was inspiring to see groups quickly pick up on the elements of Quechua she taught to the groups.
“This event gives students a chance to experience the diversity of languages the world has to offer,” DeLoge said. “It’s a way to celebrate that diversity and how special everyone is.”
Many attendees already came to the event with backgrounds in other languages. Sophomore Zach Rehrig studies Spanish, Portuguese and Latin America studies, but left with plans to add Quechua and Arabic to the mix.
“Spanish is not a less commonly taught language, so I wanted to get more experience with some that are,” Rehrig said. “It was surprising to see connections between some of the languages linguistically.”
The LCTL has not hosted any events like this previously, but Irish professor Marie Young said the center plans to advertise to more students and get them interested in their programs sooner.
“Unfortunately, at events like these, we often get students within a semester or two of graduating, and so they leave Pitt and can’t take much of the language,” Young said.
As students exited the event, they picked up pamphlets about the programs the LCTL offer and thanked organizers Mauk and Aiyanger in their newly learned tongues.
“It gets people to step out of their shells and try something different,” Aiyangar said. “We’re happy to give students that opportunity in an easy and acceptable way.”