By Leah Jones, Features Editor

Illustration for National Foreign Language Week – Courtesy of Niki Coultier/The Current

The data is clear: most Americans do not speak a foreign language but instead place the onus of communication on speakers of other languages. On March 1, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), posted a press release announcing the launch of their Lead with Language Campaign. According to the press release, fewer than 10 percent of Americans speak a second language, and only 20 percent of primary school–aged children study a foreign language. This number drops to eight percent for college students. Since language skills are needed not just in education but in an international and increasingly bilingual job market, the Lead With Language Campaign seeks to address this gap and “[support] a new generation of Americans competent in other languages and cultures and equipped to compete and succeed in a global economy.”

The department of Language and Cultural Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will do just that this upcoming week with their National Foreign Language Week events, which will be held from March 6 to March 9.

“From my perspective, Foreign Language Week is so important because it reminds us to view the world around us through the eyes of people who grew up in circumstances that are very different from our own. Foreign Language Week lets us see, hear, taste, and imagine how human beings from around the globe have approached the challenges and celebrations that we all share. When we learn a language other than our own, when we attempt to create its sounds and grasp the meanings of its words, we truly have to open our ears and minds to new ways of experiencing our surroundings. I cannot think of a better way to learn and practice empathy,” said Birgit Noll, teaching professor and chair of the Language and Cultural Studies department.

Cameron Jensen, senior, liberal arts major and Japanese minor, said “Language week should be a lot of fun. You’ll probably be able to meet somebody you wouldn’t otherwise have met, and UMSL has a big study abroad program, so there are people from all over the world here.”

The kick off celebration, entitled “A Taste of the World,” will be held in 527 Clark Hall from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday. Food will be a central feature of several of the events throughout the week. “From a learner’s perspective, I would say first and foremost that we notice that other cultures do things differently, which while trite, is still instructive. Germans love fresh food and value a good send-off into the day. We host the breakfast each year with French as food brings us together while also drawing attention to our differences, a great recipe for fruitful conversation,” explained Carol Jenkins, assistant professor of German.

On Tuesday at both 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and again from 10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. there will be a French and German Breakfast featuring French brioches and German brötchen in 527 Clark Hall. Brioches are a type of French pastry and brötchen are a type of German roll.

“Germans do enjoy breakfast and make it a fairly hearty meal, one most Americans would love to start the day with: fresh rolls, fresh butter, some cheese, and perhaps ham or some other cold cut, and the ubiquitous soft-boiled egg. Muesli is also an option, but not at our language week gathering,” Jenkins said.

On Monday, the department will give a Japanese cooking demonstration featuring okonomiyaki and onigiri in 527 Clark Hall from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Onigiri is a rice ball formed into triangular, cylindrical, or round shapes and wrapped in seaweed. It is popular to have it for lunch, picnic, or a party since it is portable and easy to eat. There are a variety of ingredients and shapes,” said Keiko Ueda, assistant teaching professor of Japanese.

“Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients such as flour, egg, cabbage, and green onion. The toppings vary according to the region. The name has derived from the word ‘okonomi’ meaning ‘how you like.’ People add their favorite ingredients as they like. On the top, we add sweet savory sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, and fish flakes. It is served at a restaurant, but it is also often cooked at home. It is fun to cook together while spending time with a family and friends,” she continued.

Jensen, who attended the Japanese cooking demonstration last year, said that the event was fun and that the food was tasty.

A Taste of Latin America: Mate, Mole, and Guacamole will be held in 527 Clark Hall from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Mate is a popular caffeinated beverage, mole is a traditional cooking sauce, and guacamole is the popular dip made from avocados. “We only have very few samples for the Hispanic world as it is not so easy to find accessible groceries for a wide range of food from Spain and Latin America,” María T. Balogh (Marité), associate teaching professor of Spanish said.  “However, food and culture go hand in hand. We only have Mexico and Argentina represented, but I hope there will be more variety in future years.”

Students will have the chance to try different Chinese dishes on both Wednesday and Thursday. On Thursday, the department will host a Chinese brunch from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in 527 Clark Hall. “Students will try typical Chinese breakfast/lunch items such as soy milk, congee with different beans, fried dough, etc.,” explained Yan Li, assistant teaching professor of Spanish and Chinese. “Food has a strong relationship with culture. For example, Chinese food is famous for its variety, delicacy, and innovation. All these are representative of the Chinese culture, which is diverse (regional differences), continuous, (with a long history), and modern (Chinese strive to learn new things and are very open to Western cultures).”

Student will also be able to indulge their inner cinephiles with four film showings throughout the week.

On Wednesday, the department will hold a Chinese Micro Films and Snack Tasting event from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in 527 Clark Hall, which will combine the culture of food and cinema. “It is a tradition both in [the] U.S. and China that movie appreciation is accompanied by eating,” Li said. “In China, it is common to eat snacks such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, crackers, candies, etc. and share comments with friends and families while watching movies or TV programs. We will have a similar experience during this event.”

The microfilms will be selections from film festivals, shot by both amateur and experienced filmmakers and starring some famous actors and actresses. Though Li explained that microfilms did not become popular in China until late 2011 to early 2012, some of these films have won awards within the filmmaking community.

The German film “Der Baader Meinhof Komplex” will show from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in 527 Clark Hall on Tuesday. Uli Edel directed the 2008 film, which provides a glimpse of the Red Army Faction (RAF). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the RAF was a terrorist organization which orchestrated bombings, kidnappings, hijackings, and assassinations in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. The group hoped that their campaign of terror would spark governmental retaliation, which would then ignite a larger revolutionary movement in Germany.

“I chose the German movie this year to emphasize the world’s sadly long history with terrorism, which in the U.S. can sometimes come across as a post-9/11 phenomenon. The film we will show, ‘The Baader-Meinhof Complex,’ demonstrates how complicated the topic is, and also how another country, Germany, tried to deal with it in the past, with, at best, partial success,” Jenkins explained.

Later, the 1990 Japanese film “Dreams” will show in 100 Clark Hall from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday. “The film’s director is Akira Kurosawa, regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. Dreams is based on a collection of tales based on actual dreams of the director,” Ueda explained. “The cinematography is very beautiful and captivating.”

On Thursday, the 1993 French film “Doisneau des Villes, Doisneau des Champs” will show in 527 Clark Hall from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Directed by Patrick Cazals, the documentary film features the French photographer Robert Doisneau and his contemplations on his art.

Students will also have the chance to experience other cultures through cultural practices, objects, and of course, both spoken and written language as well. On Thursday, students will be introduced to the complexities of Japanese Calligraphy from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in 527 Clark Hall. From 12:15 to 1:15, faculty from the department will do reading in the Monday Noon Series: Poetry event, which will be held in Gallery 210. Balogh, herself a poet, is the coordinator and curator for the poetry reading. Balogh said that she believes that poetry provides a way for people to connect with different cultures.

On Wednesday, “La Mesa de español” will be held in the Nosh in the Millennium Student Center (MSC) from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday.  The Japanese-English Language Exchange Table will also take place in the Nosh from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. In addition to speaking foreign languages here at UMSL, students will also be able to learn about opportunities to immerse themselves in these languages through UMSL’s study abroad opportunities with a panel discussion about the study abroad experience from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in 527 Clark Hall.

“[National Foreign Language Week] helps for the language students because it is [an] outside of class event, but it is also a good way to just meet people who are studying languages and interact in your same language outside of class. It builds community experience, friendships, [and] relationships. You get to meet your teachers in fun environments … and that’s really fun because they are all really nice people,” Jensen said.

Though the celebrations throughout the week will give UMSL students the chance to learn about other languages and cultures, the students and faculty in the Foreign Languages and Cultural studies department all agree that learning another language and engaging with other cultures would benefit students year-round. The department offers a BA in modern languages, with concentrations in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish for students who are seeking a Bachelor of Science in Education. The department also offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, Latin, and English for Academic Purposes.

“You get to communicate with people where you wouldn’t normally be able to, and that’s really cool,” Jensen said on the importance of learning other languages. “[It] is a way of experiencing culture, too.”

“I think it’s so fun. When I went to China, I had taken a little conversation class and felt so empowered being able to shop and order food,” said Denise Mussman, a teaching professor who offers instruction in English Second Language classes at UMSL. “Learning French taught me grammar.”

“Learning another language expands one’s mind and world view,” Balogh added. “I never get tired of learning language. English is my second language and Spanish [is] my first. I also speak quite a bit of French and am currently taking Portuguese. With each language added to my repertoire, I gain the insights of the cultures linked with it.”

Jenkins also explained how learning about new languages and cultures gives learners access and opportunities. “We all exist in bubbles, with language being an encompassing one. Breaking down this one barrier will open you to a flood of new information and perspectives, which of course is what education is all about. The mere habit of adjusting yourself to the new thought processes inherent in acquiring a foreign language will reshape your thinking, rendering you more flexible in thought and thus so much better prepared for your life and career, as a worker, and more importantly, a citizen,” she said.

By connecting students to other languages and cultures, National Foreign Language Week gives students the opportunity to question their own preconceived ideas through the differences with which it presents students about other cultures, but it also will give them the opportunity to make connections through the similarities.


The schedule of events for the week will be as follows.


“Monday Noon Series-Poetry Reading by Language Faculty” in Gallery 210 from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

“Kick-Off Celebration: A Taste of the World” in 527 Clark Hall from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“Japanese Cooking Demo: Okonomiyaki and Onigiri” in 527 Clark Hall from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.


“French and German Breakfast: Brioches and Brötchen” in 527 Clark from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and again from 10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

“Panel Discussion: The Study Abroad Experience” in 527 Clark Hall from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

“German Film: ‘Der Baader Meinhof Komplex’”in 527 Clark Hall from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Japanese Film: ‘Dreams’” in 100 Clark Hall from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.


“Chinese Micro Films and Snack Tasting” in 527 Clark Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

“A Taste of Latin America: Mate, Mole, and Guacamole” in 527 Clark Hall from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“La Mesa de español” in the Nosh from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“Japanese-English Language Exchange Table” in the Nosh from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.


“Chinese Brunch” in 527 Clark Hall from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“Japanese Calligraphy” in 527 Clark Hall from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“French Film: ‘Doisneau des Villes, Doisneau des Champs’” in 527 Clark Hall from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

To view the flier for the event, click here.

To read more about the Lead With Language Campaign, click here.