Student-Taught Language Night Classes Kick Into Gear
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 17:01
Northeastern University took the initiative, and now Boston College is following along.
When Hannah Lee, A&S ’13, came back last year from her fall semester abroad, she was eager to continue practicing the French she had learned and become fluent in. However, as a student already double-majoring and trying to maintain a rigorous curriculum, she simply could not find space in her schedule to pick up a new class.
“I wanted a place where you could speak and learn French or another language without having to take a full-time class,” Lee said. Having heard of a program at Northeastern in which students could take informal language classes, Lee created BC’s version: BC Nighttime Education: Students Teaching Students (NESTS). “Having that alternative, especially at night when students have more time, was something that I thought our school really needed,” she said.
BC NESTS is the newest program of three within Education for Students by Students (ESS), and, Lee noted, “fits perfectly with ESS’ mission statement of undergraduates teaching other undergraduates their knowledge.” BC NESTS began only last spring upon Lee’s return from her semester abroad, when she realized the necessity of such a program. “People are going abroad, becoming fluent in another language, and then losing their fluency upon return.”
Over 50 applicants applied to teach in 10 available sections. Classes are taught by well-qualified undergraduate and graduate students who, once selected, have an orientation and special training. Such training brings BC language professors together with students in order to teach the students how to properly conduct a language class and to design syllabi for the courses.
“A bunch of our teachers, as students, even have teaching certifications,” Lee said. “Some are graduate students, have done summer programs, and have experience doing this sort of thing.”
Students sign up to enroll in the classes online on the BC NESTS website, and can, this semester, sign up for varying placement levels in French, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Italian, and Chinese.
For the first week, classes are open to all students in order to allow them to test out different sections, languages, or language levels and determine their own placement before the classes are closed off. After the first week, students commit to participating once a week in the program, which is 10 weeks, for only an hour a week. “That’s not that much for a language,” Lee said. “When you come out of classes, you’ll know how to do the basic things. But if you’re not coming every week then the basic stuff is not going to stay.”
Despite the fact that a 10-week duration might scare a typical time-conscious college student, Lee emphasized how minimal the time commitment is, and how little pressure the program puts on students. Unlike a full-time language course, there are no extra discussion or practicum sections, no tests or midterms, and there is no homework.
Right now, with just over 150 undergraduate students signed up to enrolled this semester alone, BC NESTS is rapidly gaining a dominant presence on campus. Lee saw her goal of reaching 200 students by the end of registration on Feb. 4 as realistic. “People want to learn languages for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “We have people from abroad, and people from every department and from every school who just want to learn the basics of a new language.”
The name BC NESTS isn’t particular to languages and remains ambiguous because one day Lee hopes to see it expand past languages and into other subjects that student are curious about teaching or learning. “Ideally, we can turn it into a program that allows students to shine and show off their passions,” she said.