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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

World Languages Day: Step One on My Journey to Italy

In my high school French class, hearing English spoken by the instructor was an unmistakable sign of important news. Naturally, my studious tenth-grade self stopped packing up my materials and paid attention to the announcement. "We have been invited to attend World Languages Day at the University of Minnesota in a few weeks. This is a great opportunity for you all to not only experience languages other than French, but to earn a little bit of extra credit as well." These were the only words spoken in English we had heard in the past 55 minutes and, at least to me, some of the best spoken all day.

The opportunity to leave my humble town of 80,000 people to venture into Minneapolis was not something to be turned down. Little did I know that what I thought to be a chance to get out of town (and class) for a day would be the catalyst that helped me to realize experiences in life of which I wanted to be a part.

My initial introduction to the University of Minnesota left me in awe. My first memorable impression of the campus was of the giant "M" fused into the floor at the entrance to Coffman Union. I felt instantly connected to the campus due to the fact that the maroon and gold of the "M" were my high school's colors as well as the university's. After being formally welcomed by staff in the Great Hall, my classmates and I participated in a short tour of campus as we were guided to the Knoll area. I remember walking through the Mall staring up at Northrop and thinking how magnificent and collegiate it seemed. I was immediately intrigued. Once we reached our destination, majestic Folwell Hall, I knew that this was the university that I needed to attend. Solely based on my observations of the campus, I was fully convinced of the possibilities and opportunities the university offered before I even entered a classroom.

The classes I participated in throughout World Languages Day only solidified my interest in attending actual classes at the U of M. The language classes were fun, engaging, and different from any of the French classes I had taken at my high school. I was introduced to Latin playwrights, the Greek alphabet, and Italian greetings and phrases. Not only was I learning about the different languages, but I was introduced to the culture behind the languages as well. This was a welcome substitution for the usual grammar and vocabulary I would have otherwise been learning that day.

The Italian class had an especially significant impact on me and my college career. After applying and being accepted to the U, I was faced with the decision of choosing a foreign language to study. I recalled my time spent at World Languages Day and remembered how much fun I had had learning greetings, the correct pronunciation of gnocchi, and a few of the vast amount of hand gestures used by Italians. Having some background knowledge of the language from participating in World Languages Day helped me choose Italian to fulfill my foreign-language requirement.

Attending the Italian classes offered at the U has led me to pursue a minor in Italian in conjunction with my major in English and to study abroad for a summer in Lecce, Italy. All of these experiences which essentially resulted from attending World Languages Day are those which I will always remember and be influenced by. I believe that World Languages Day was one of the major deciding factors in my decision to attend the University of Minnesota and helped me realize the amazing opportunities learning a second language could open up.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Digital Content Library: The U of M's answer to YouTube

What do the Human Language Series, an esteemed linguistics instructional series, and Skärgårdsdoktorn, a popular Swedish medical drama have in common? They are both protected and shared through the Digital Content Library (DCL) at http://dcl.umn.edu/.

The DCL is a combined resource of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the College of Design (CDes). It offers media in multiple forms, including video. This digital video is password protected and available only to U of M students, faculty and staff.

The video available through the DCL is of average quality, equivalent to clips on YouTube. It may not be the best choice for showing a full-length film in class, but it's an excellent resource for sharing shorter clips in class, or allowing students to watch entire films at home.

By request, almost any item in the Language Center video library can be digitized for instructional purposes. Currently, over 125 films in the Language Center film library have been digitized, some in their entirety, and some only select clips. You can search for films on our website at http://filemaker.cla.umn.edu/LangCtr/findrecords.php. If the film is available through the DCL, there will be a link at the bottom of the item detail page.

As a bonus, the DCL has given us DVD copies of VHS tapes that have been digitized. As part of the digitizing process for tapes, the DCL must make a DVD first. We have been given permission to circulate these DVD copies, and many VHS tapes have been archived and replaced with DVDs in our library. The DVDs are of no better quality than their VHS originals, and they lack standard DVD menus, although they do have chapters set approximately every ten minutes. When these DVD copies have been put into circulation, the original VHS tape is no longer available for check out.

Circulating these burned DVDs is a good option for films that are not commercially available in the United States. However, whenever possible, we strongly recommend that instructors purchase films on DVD instead of relying on a DVD copy of a VHS tape. The quality of a purchased DVD is far superior to a copy of a tape, and purchasing the standard format when available (currently DVD) will help us stay within the spirit of copyright protection.

If you have never visited the DCL, you should definitely check it out at http://dcl.umn.edu/. You'll be amazed at the wealth of materials available for you and your students.