Cornell University held the annual World Languages Day (WLD) on Saturday, October 21, 2023. Bringing secondary school students from both the local Ithaca community and greater New York state together, the day-long event showcased the boundless possibilities for language learning, cultural understanding, and global engagement at the college level. Over 50 cross-disciplinary volunteers, including Cornell students, faculty, and staff, dedicated their time to help the event and show their support of the WLD vision. WLD was made possible thanks to the generous support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, and the Language Resource Center. WLD participants, many of whom are high school students registered through Cornell’s Upward Bound program, attended an exciting variety of presentations, academic sessions, and info fair.
The day began with a welcome plenary by Angelika Kraemer, the Director of Cornell’s Language Resource Center. In the opening address, she emphasized the meaningful impact language learning has on individuals, from connecting with others to contributing to a more accepting and inclusive society. Sebastian Young, an undergraduate student and Language Resource Center Student Assistant, gave this year’s WLD keynote address. In his speech, Sebastian discussed language acquisition as a method of immersion in one’s culture, identity, and community, expressing that “language learning gives you a window into your family history and culture. It allows you to immerse yourself in these experiences as a family member and speak a familial language. Use today [WLD] as an opportunity to connect with your heritage and be proud of your race, ethnicity, and culture.” Ultimately, studying a language allows one to engage with their own family heritage or develop a deep understanding and appreciation of another culture and history. The plenary concluded with a visit from Touchdown, Cornell’s iconic “Big Red Bear” mascot – and yes, in case you were wondering, Touchdown does “speak Bear.”
Throughout the day, students attended three different sessions facilitated by Cornell faculty, staff, students, and community members. Covering numerous topics, the engaging workshops broadened participants’ perspectives on language, culture, history, customs, music, and more! This year’s captivating sessions included:
- Experience Africa through the lens of language learning
- Amaze your peers. Baffle your elders. Learn ASL!
- Bangladesh: Land of rivers, food, and festivals
- Oh, the places you’ll go! Languages = Superpowers (French)
- German popular music from jazz to Kraut-Rock to hip-hop
- 케이팝 – K-pop dance training (Korean K-Pop)
- Feel the rhythm with Shimtah (Korean Drums)
- Latin lives! Vivant Latina!
- Languages of Southeast Asia: The Gameshow!
- Turkish Delight: Revealing the gems of Turkey’s past and present
- The “Carol of the Bells”: An unknown story of a well-known Ukrainian song
Presenters noted that “it was rejuvenating to work with middle/high schoolers from across Upstate NY.” Another presenter commented how “I haven’t been around students that are so excited to learn and participate in so long! I had just as much, if not more fun working with them. I can’t wait to do this again.” Overall, the sessions were insightful and productive for both students as well as presenters.
Along with learning from the workshops, students also navigated through an info fair in which various Cornell campus units presented on their initiatives and resources. The participants were all given a blank “passport” with the opportunity to earn stickers by stopping at each of the info booths; a completed passport granted them an entry for the desirable prize of “Cornell swag” from the Cornell Store. The Cornell University Library, Office of Global Learning, Language Resource Center, Brittany and Adam J. Levinson China and Asia-Pacific Studies Program (CAPS), Translator-Interpreter Program (TIP), Foreign Language Introduction Program (FLIP), Language Expansion Program (LEP), Cornell Japan United States Association, and College Finder were all essential travel stops (not to mention a demonstration from the Kendo Club!). During the info fair, Daria Badger, an undergraduate student volunteer and Language Resource Center Student Assistant, managed the FLIP info table. Daria shared her enjoyable experience volunteering at WLD for the first time: “I was able to teach students how to say Polish words and tongue twisters, which was super fun! I think a lot of the kids were excited by the challenge and became interested in learning more about Poland afterwards.” Overall, the info fair allowed participants to familiarize themselves with units at Cornell as well as the types of opportunities they may encounter at any university or college campus. While half of the youth participants navigated the info fair, the other half enjoyed a delicious international lunch. Two student organization performances rounded out the lunch break: LOKO, the Korean dance group, and Shimtah, the Korean drumming group, presented their talents.
WLD concluded with a closing ceremony in which participants reflected upon the event and shared what they had learned from the workshops, info fair, and performances. “It was deeply satisfying to introduce so many enthusiastic K-12 students to the vibrant language community we have here at Cornell," said Kraemer. “As national trends continue to highlight challenges for language programs, events like World Languages Day are crucial for showing young students the diverse array of applications for studying a second, third, or sixth language.” As a whole, the students were intrigued by the sessions and enthusiastic about studying a new language. A student described the event’s atmosphere: “I love that it is open to everyone, and it is so inviting. Real professors are teaching, and we get to see students perform.” Another participant reiterated the theme from the keynote, stating that a highlight was “being able to be immersed with other cultures.” A student commented, “I enjoyed being with people who know a lot about their language.” WLD volunteers, many of whom also attended the sessions, shared similar positive feedback. “The best part of my experience was definitely getting to talk to the middle and high schoolers who were really curious about language… It was great to see students get out of their comfort zone and try new things.” Another expressed, “interacting with kids and working with others in my community within Cornell was rewarding.” Participants and volunteers collectively concluded that the event emphasized “that all cultures are important.” The value of WLD can be seen within the variety of languages and cultures represented, as well as the positivity of the lecturers, volunteers, and student participants.
Hear more about WLD from two participants who joined the LRC podcast, Speaking of Language.
And mark your calendars for WLD 2024 on Saturday, October 26!