Evaluating Language Houses on 20th Anniversary: Expectations are high, but some not met

By: Olivia Walters, News Editor

     The start of the 2017 fall semester marks two decades since the launch of the language house program in ‘97 by former Furman President David E. Shi. The residential option promotes international exchange in five languages󠀭- French, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and German; along with foreign language education beyond the scope of classroom environments, Director Bill Allen described.  


     Students looking for a different living experience benefit by living with a native speaker, which “opens up a window onto the culture,” said Allen. The cultural hub located in North Village A presents unique opportunities for its participants.


     “We [professors] do not pretend to do the same things as the assistants,” said Allen. Activities such as cooking and film showings make the experience relatable to college-aged students wanting more than academic exposure to their target language.


     Applicants of all levels of proficiency are invited to apply. First-time residents may be prioritized, although repeat residents are not infrequent.


     A difficult aspect of the program is recruitment, explains Allen, since the architecture of the apartment has to accommodate for groups of same-sex students blocked together in groups of three, seven or eleven.


     For each language, there are other unique challenges. Although the program does not enforce a language pledge or threaten expulsion when English is spoken, the Chinese, Japanese and Spanish houses typically spread out over multiple apartments, but can only be led by one assistant. Houses without an assistant may choose to resort to English, and as a result, they do not participate in the intended full-immersion experience.


     Matthew Sanders ‘18 lived in the Japanese house his sophomore year before studying at the Seinan Gakuin University in 2016-2017. He would have liked to have lived with a native speaker, but Sanders said he benefited from the extracurricular activities.


     Regardless of spacing issues, the concept fosters independent curiosity, Allen said.


     Allen added a final aspect of the language house program:  “I can attribute at least three marriages to the language house, one in Spanish and two in French.” Granted, this was not anticipated at the start of the program, but the experience is what students make of it.


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