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Languages: New Light for a New World

  • April 25, 2016
Through its international and diversity programming, the College of Arts and Sciences is delivering on its promise of “knowledge that will change your world.”
By John Maddox

Through its international and diversity programming, the College of Arts and Sciences is delivering on its promise of “knowledge that will change your world.”        

John MaddoxThe Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is preparing students to connect with diverse cultures through its language programs in French, Japanese, Chinese, German, and Italian. New faculty, including our chair, Dr. Julián Arribas, are establishing a new vision for the department. Dr. Arribas brings a wealth of knowledge of his Spanish homeland, but he is also working to make the Foreign Languages major, which offers specialties in Spanish and French, even more dynamic. My colleague Dr. Lourdes Sánchez-López leads the cutting-edge Spanish for Specific Purposes Certificate (SSP), which trains students in a variety of majors in job-ready language skills for business, legal, and medical settings. She also leads the business Spanish minor and service learning internships with the Birmingham Hispanic community.

With SSP, I have created the interdisciplinary Medicine and Literature in the Hispanic World class and a May mini-term program called “Spanish and Service Learning in Puerto Rico.” UAB students will spend three weeks in Old San Juan, travel the island, and take language classes. They will lead a summer camp for underprivileged children that uses their unique interests (art, theater, sports, and gardening). I will connect their service to culture, history, and education during reflection sessions. They will help others, show leadership, and practice teamwork—all valuable skills for the workplace and the community.

Back in Birmingham, UAB students are already making new friends in Spain, China (and soon Japan) via Skype in our Foreign Language Media Services lab. The new “Palomitas” Spanish and Latin American Film Club was one of many groups that filled the new Hill Center in January at the UAB Multicultural and Diversity Programs International Bazaar.

But our local experiences inform the international community, too. Because Birmingham’s rich civil rights past is so important in world history, I am working with African American Studies and other departments to bring experts from many fields to speak on the African Diaspora in Latin America for a colloquium called “Black Resistance and Negotiation in Latin America.” Most Africans in the Americas live outside the United States, so learning at least Spanish, Portuguese, or French is necessary to fully understand black history and our role in it. I shared these ideas at a recent Haddin Forum, an interdisciplinary lecture series where faculty and students share a meal and innovative ideas. 

UAB’s foreign language and culture learners have new opportunities because they can connect with more people, regardless of whether they are language majors, education abroad travelers, audience members, or students who pair their language skills with another discipline to be more competitive in the multilingual, multicultural global workforce. These connections will be of central importance as the university’s partnership with the international recruiting firm INTO brings fresh new perspectives and ideas from around the globe to Birmingham. The world is coming to UAB, and UAB is going out to learn from it. As the African proverb says, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” In the College of Arts and Sciences, we are using language to shed light on other cultures, which in turn illuminate our own. Blaze On!

Dr. John Maddox is an Assistant Professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.