Alison E. Peters


Gang Resistance Education and Lifestyle?Gulf Reef Environmental Action Laws?Geriatric Real Estate and Licensing?

Maybe, but not on Miami University’s campus.

Guten tag, zdravstvuite, al salaam a’alaykum, hello

GREAL, an acronym for the department of German, Russian and Eastern Asian languages, is home to several foreign languages, including German, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindi, Korean and Japanese. According to Miami archives, these languages were consolidated into the GREAL department in 1972.

Throughout Irvin Hall, various languages can be heard echoing off the walls. Office doors are decorated with posters in different languages, showcasing exotic landmarks from countries around the world.

Robert DiDonato, department chair and professor of German, described the program as a very unique opportunity for foreign language studies.

“GREAL is a department that consists of languages that seemingly don’t belong together, but functions as a department really well,” DiDonato said. “Professors are very anxious to see the department as a whole thrive and succeed because it only makes GREAL a better place to work and a great place for students.”

According to Ruth Sanders, a professor of German, GREAL consists of a wide variety of students across the university.

“We have students fulfilling the arts and language requirement and, more recently, a lot of business students studying Chinese,” Sanders said. “We have a large number of international studies majors, and then, of course, general students across the board.”

Senior Amy Peterson is one such student who sought to enhance her education through the study of multiple languages.

Peterson, who has studied German since high school, said she picked up Arabic studies during her second year at Miami.

Like Peterson, senior Cara Buscaglia opted to study a language other than a Romance language, like French or Spanish.

Buscaglia said her choice to study Chinese was based on a variety of factors.

“I wanted to learn a language and culture completely different than my own,” Buscaglia said. “It is so cool to learn Chinese, because it is just not typical. I knew I wanted to travel to China so I figured I should learn the language.”

In addition to traveling to China in spring 2008, Buscaglia said she put her East Asian language skills to use while backpacking through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

Similarly, Peterson opted to study abroad through GREAL in Jordan to enhance her studies.

“On the first day of class, while I was studying Arabic in Jordan, we had to read a short story and I could only recognize three words,” Peterson said. “Now, while walking on Miami’s campus, I notice people speaking Arabic. Because I study the language, I feel like I notice it so much more.”

Not your average faculty

Born in Bulgaria, Mila Ganeva, a German professor, also speaks fluent Russian. Ganeva said the diversity of the department faculty is an invaluable asset.

“Our faculty is as diverse as it can possibly be, which itself is an indicator of our uniqueness,” Ganeva said.

According to Ganeva, GREAL department professors hail from Ukraine, Jordan, Israel, Japan, China, Bulgaria, Russia and the United States.

Nationality, however, does not indicate their language teaching specialty, Ganeva said.

“You may think that the Russian and Chinese natives on our faculty are teaching Russian and Chinese respectively, but both are teaching in the German program,” Ganeva said.

Like Ganeva, Quinna Shen swapped her first language in favor of teaching another.

A professor of German, Shen grew up speaking Chinese.

As teachers in the GREAL department, Shen and Ganeva said they help students develop language skills through a variety of tools. Ganeva said she uses foreign films, TV shows, newspapers, videos and discussion boards to integrate language studies in different aspects of students’ lives.

For Shen, the true sign of language mastery is when she begins to dream in that language.

“I dream in all the languages I know,” Shen said. “I spoke a Chinese dialect at home before I went to Beijing to study. In the early period in Beijing, I dreamt in that dialect. When I become very comfortable with Mandarin in daily use, I started to dream in Mandarin. The same thing happened with German and English.”

DiDonato said he, too, dreams in multiple languages.

“Actually I dream in three (languages) English, German and Italian,” said DiDonato, “but it is separated somehow … If I dream about my stays or friends in Germany, it is often in German. If I dream about my childhood and parents it is in Italian. English takes care of the rest.”

Language as a life-long skill

For Shen, the most importance aspect of learning a foreign language is beginning early.

“Be like the wise man who builds his house on solid rock, not on sinking sand,” Shen said. “Students should build a solid foundation with language, so the first semester of language learning is crucial … College students are at a young age, where they can still train and mold their brain.”

Peterson agreed with Shen that building a solid foundation in the first year of learning a language is essential.

“It’s always going to be hard in the beginning,” Peterson said. “It’s new, your brain doesn’t think in the way the language is structured yet, but it always get better the more you work at it.”

Shen said she believes learning another language will become a lifelong asset.

According to Shen, students studying foreign languages have a wide variety of jobs awaiting them should they choose to apply these skills in their future.

“All kinds of jobs are possible for language majors,” Shen said. “In particular, academics, translators, interpreters, librarians, diplomats, businessmen (and) tour guides are some of the professions that language students are prepared to be engaged in.”

For Shen, fluency in foreign language can act as a diplomatic tool for graduates to become more successful after leaving Miami.

“Language is a communicative tool that enables linguistic barriers to be overcome in the real world,” Shen said.

Additionally, Ganeva said foreign language skills are always impressive to future employers.

“The realization that whatever your career will be-the jobs of the future more than ever before-will require flexibility and open-mindedness,” Ganeva said. “Proficiency in a foreign language, in addition to another area of expertise, is a sure indicator to the employers that this person is more adaptive, more perceptive of cultural differences and able to handle them well.”

According to Ganeva, these qualities are highly valued in a globalized world.

A common theme throughout the GREAL department is “language is not a birthright,” allowing all people to be open to languages outside of their immediate culture.

“Knowing more than one language can only enhance and enrich our lives,” DiDonato said. “Think about if you knew a Western European language and an Eastern Asian language, plus you already know English-that would be incredible. It would open us up globally to the whole world.”