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BYU's visiting students soak up new languages and polish rare ones

A recent Stanford graduate and descendant of Russian Jews, Jeannie Ensign-Lewis came to Brigham Young University this summer to learn Russian from BYU's Center for Language Studies, unique in America for offering both intensive language courses and less-common tongues like Vietnamese, Bulgarian and Tagalog.

College students from across the country are taking advantage of the Center's summer offerings - 33 classes in 19 languages.

Some, who can already speak a rare language fluently, seek out the Center as one of the only sites where they can receive advanced instruction. Others, like Ensign-Lewis, want to condense a year's worth of foreign language classes into a two-month summer term.

"We are totally immersed in it. I am starting to think in Russian. I don't know of any other way to do that in such a short amount of time," said Ensign-Lewis, who someday wants to put her psychology degree to work in a Russian orphanage. "There's nowhere else that I found where I could take a year's worth of Russian in two months."

That is a sentiment shared by outside evaluators as well.

"There are no other programs like this in terms of the number of courses offered at advanced levels," said Teresita Ramos, chair of a language department at the University of Hawaii, who recently visited BYU to assess the program for the U.S. Department of Education. "This is a chance for students to transfer basic knowledge into communication skills. BYU has put a lot of effort into this."

Enrollment in the Center's summer program has more than doubled since its inception in 2000. Of the 464 students currently enrolled in intensive and advanced language courses, 40 percent are visiting students.

"We're grateful that there is a high level of interest in our program," said Melvin Luthy, director of the Center. "Some want to learn a language at an accelerated pace, while others want to study less commonly taught languages,"

Christopher Borjas, a visiting student from Kansas State University, couldn't find anywhere else to polish the Cebuano language he learned on his mission to the Philippines for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"My teacher is Filipino. She speaks perfect Cebuano. It's a perfect way to learn," said Borjas, who is pursuing a degree in astrophysics. "We learn about the history of the Philippines and useful vocabulary. It's all about language development. The course is well set up and the tests are pretty difficult."

Catherine Reese, a visiting student from Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown University majoring in international politics with a concentration in security studies, came to BYU this summer to study Arabic.

"To graduate from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, I have to be fluent in a foreign language," Reese said. "I'm in class four hours a day and then I have four or five hours of homework. BYU's program is incredibly intensive, which is perfect."

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