Three language classes broaden BU students’ horizons

Swahili, Arabic, Chinese provide chance to travel

By Lela Atwood

From playing with orphans in Kenya, to viewing a cultural dance in Cairo, or walking along the Great Wall in China, learning a language can provide new opportunities and adventures.

“When you know a people’s language, it opens doors that you didn’t know were there,” said William Baker, a senior lecturer in Arabic.

Knowing a foreign language not only brings interesting stories, but also job prospects.

“Since we live in a global world, relationships between other countries are becoming more important than ever before,” said Dr. Xin Wang, the director of Asian studies and associate professor of Chinese.

The languages offered by Baylor are spoken not only in Europe, but in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Language professors say their courses are designed for novices, and invite students from all backgrounds to enroll in their courses.

“We don’t assume any prior knowledge with our students,” Baker said. “Everyone starts in the same position.”

Houston junior Jenna Mitchell said her desire to learn a foreign language came when she spent time with orphans during a trip to Kenya with Buckner International. At the time, she did not know Swahili, one of the languages spoken in that region.

“I could love them and hug them, but I wanted to tell them how much I loved them, she said. “The first Swahili phrase I learned was ‘I love you.’”

Since that time, Mitchell has taken two semesters of Swahili and has returned to Kenya two times.

Students who study Swahili have the opportunity to study abroad in Kenya with the Baylor in East Africa program. Additionally, Spiritual Life often organizes summer mission trips to Africa.

Although Africa is known for the problems of poverty and disease, James Houser, a senior lecturer in Swahili, said it is truly an enchanting place to visit.

“I tell people there is just nothing like being out camping in an African night, full moon,” Houser said.

“All of the animals are there with different sounds, fire going, the peacefulness and the darkness of the night, you will never see in America.”

Swahili is spoken in Eastern Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Eastern Congo and Mozambique. It is a trade language of East Africa.

Sometimes it takes a war to generate interest in learning a foreign language.

Erie, Pa., junior Dan Marchini first became curious about the Middle East after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the chaos that followed in that region.

After two semesters of Arabic classes, Marchini got to study abroad in Cairo during the fall 2010 semester. While he was in Cairo, he and his friends liked to explore the non-tourist parts of the city and directly interact with the locals.

“We would play chess,” Marchini said, “and old guys with hookah came and chose sides and told us which moves to make. They played the game through us, which was cool.”

Marchini, who plans to continue his Arabic language studies in graduate school, said Arabic is a vital language to learn, especially after all the revolutions and rapid changes that have affected this region.

“They need help and support,” he said.

“But if we want to make a difference, we need to understand what they want and need.”

Students of Arabic have the opportunity to study abroad, like Marchini did, at the American University of Cairo.

The form of Arabic taught on campus is spoken in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel-Palestine and in Egypt.

Sometimes short-term mission trips can spark a person’s interest in acquiring a new language.

When Weatherford sophomore James* went on a trip to China with Antioch Community Church, he longed to talk to the people around him. Chinese is the most commonly spoken language in the world, and James knew learning the language would open doors for him to meet more people.

“When I saw the faces of the people, I knew I wanted to talk to them and know them more,” he said.

Since his trip, James has taken two semesters of Chinese.

“Chinese is so unique and fascinating,” he said.

“You learn a whole new way people think, how they express joy and sadness.”

Wang said China is a “dynamic” place to visit, a blending of the old and the new.

“China is a unique mix of tradition and modernization,” Wang said. “Being there teaches you to work hard, and it is very community oriented.”

Wang said that contrary to popular opinion, learning Chinese is possible for American students.

“I think that there are myths about Chinese being difficult to learn,” he said. “But it is similar to English in terms of sentence structure.”

Students of Chinese have the opportunity to enrich their language skills through studying abroad at Tsinghua University in Beijing, or at Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong. Beginning Chinese students also have the opportunity to do the Baylor in China program during the summer.

Chinese is spoken in China, Singapore regions, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand, though not exclusively.
James said he hopes to return to China to befriend the people and to share his faith with others.

“My motivation is that I want to go back and communicate the love of God in their lives,” he said. “People see a lot of respect in you learning their culture and their language. It honors them.”

*Editor’s note: For security reasons, this story has been edited to protect the identity of a source involved with international missions.