The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Keeping cultures alive through language

Tyler Heberle | Staff Writer | [email protected]

A recent British Broadcasting Company study confirmed there may be up to 7,000 languages currently spoken around the globe. This monumental number brings to mind the Tower of Babel story — in which God created languages to prevent humankind from helping each other to reach his heights.

Whether one believes the Old Testament Bible story or not, language barriers can provide hurdles for those trying to get any messages across to each other.

City College provides students the opportunity to study and learn foreign languages, including, but not limited to, those offered at many high schools.

One such language is French. Melissa Stem, French professor, says her class “takes a communicative approach to language” with a primary goal of reaching out to people new to the language.

To Stem, learning a foreign language is “beneficial to every student.” Regardless of the language one practices, there is a good chance it will provide insight into what makes a culture unique, she believes.

“As students learn vocabulary and study grammatical structures, they come to a better understanding of language as a system and how the parts function together,” Stem says. “Moreover, learning a language opens a window onto the cultures of the people who speak that language.”

Stem says she also believes that if people speak in a newly shared language, both parties can benefit and enjoy each other’s company.

“In addition to learning about contemporary culture, studying a language involves you in the study of history, philosophy, art history, literature, art, music, architecture, sociology, anthropology, food and sports,” Stem says. “It is a gateway to the humanities.”

A new language can be a gateway to many things besides humanities: new acquaintances, cultural awareness, and more well-rounded communication abilities, to name a few.

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“I would recommend people to take this class if they wanted to learn [about] a different lifestyle,” Wan says. “It is always fun to learn about someone else’s culture.”

Wan says that since he is of Chinese descent, learning to improve his Cantonese has been especially helpful. Since speaking, reading and writing a language are inherently connected to a culture, Wan says he believes that “all aspects” of the language-learning process are equally important.

“I’m starting to see our culture die out every year,” Wan says. “I believe it is because we are in America, and we don’t know our own tradition, so it is important to learn it so we can pass it down to future generations.”

City College’s language selection helps provide sustenance to multiple cultures, according to college staff.

Chris Iwata, dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, says the college offers many languages, including Spanish, French, Mandarin and Russian.

“The most recent languages that we’ve had have been Greek, Arabic, Persian, Punjabi and Korean,” Iwata says.

Most of these languages are taught on the main City College campus during the fall and spring semesters, and Spanish is even offered over the summer. In addition, City College’s satellite campuses, West Sacramento Center and Davis Center, offer some language classes each semester.

Students aren’t short on options, and like Stem and Wan, Iwata says he believes students should study at least one language that is new to them.

“[Students] shouldn’t pick a language because someone else says it has value,” Iwata says. “I think a language that appeals to [a student] would be the one to study initially.

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