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By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Students call for more on-campus space to practice languages

Sophomore Christopher von Claparede launched a petition on the Student Association’s petitioning platform Sunday calling on GW to allocate studio rooms for students to practice languages aloud.

Students are pushing the University to dedicate more campus space for students to practice speaking foreign languages.

Sophomore Christopher von Claparede launched a petition on the Student Association’s petitioning platform Sunday calling on the University to allocate studio rooms for students to practice languages aloud. He said the rooms, which could be housed in empty office spaces on Gelman Library’s fourth and fifth floors, would give students more academic space to study for a language course or pick up a new language outside of class.

“Knowing how helpful it is to have that time to speak aloud or to be with my friends and practice, I’ve seen my grades improve, I’ve seen a lot of things improve,” he said. “I want to have that space for any language student.”

As of Wednesday, the petition had 64 signatures. The SA president is required to formally respond to a petition posted on the forum if it garners at least 500 signatures within three months.

The petition is the second to launch on the GW Voice petitioning platform since it was created last spring. The first petition, which was released last May, called on the University to change the Colonials nickname to something less “offensive,” like the hippo.

von Claparede, who is double-majoring in international affairs and Russian, said he took an eight-credit Russian intensive course during his freshman year and could not find quiet areas to speak aloud in his residence hall room, which he shared with five other students. He said having a language studio would have enabled him to have a consistent space where he would not disturb his peers while speaking the second language.

He said the studios could take up six to a dozen empty office spaces, which students could reserve either for themselves or a group to practice oral presentations. International students could also use the studio to practice English if they are still learning the language, von Claparede said.

“If we want to be an international university, if we want to label ourselves as that, I think we need a strong language program,” he said.

von Claparede said he will also meet with University President Thomas LeBlanc to discuss the petition in person Friday. He said he is also scheduling meetings with faculty in every language department to discuss the potential benefits of the language studios.

Richard Robin, the director of Russian language, said language studios would allow students to converse with their peers in different languages instead of using computer software to practice speaking aloud. He said language departments currently offer tutors in Phillips Hall, but the tutors are seldom used by students.

Robin added that in the Russian department, students are required to give oral presentations in class about once a week.

“The petition is not a very ambitious one,” he said. “It seems to me that even if the demand is low, it should be able to be met.”

Sophomore Brendan Lane, who was the first person to sign the petition, said he would book language studios to practice speaking French, which he typically does in the basement of Fulbright Hall or his friend’s room in Shenkman Hall.

He said the language studios could be especially useful for students studying less popular languages, like Latin or Greek, who have fewer faculty resources than students taking courses in larger departments.

“It would be a good way to support kids who want to learn those critical languages and want to study languages that will help world interest in the future and help them do that when they’re here,” he said. “They can be the best when they graduate from GW.”

Senior Carolyn Rider said that as an international affairs major, she is required to enroll in language courses and would use a language studio to schedule times when she and her peers could practice oral presentations together. She said the Elliott School of International Affairs currently offers “language cafes” – rooms designated for students to practice speaking languages aloud about once a week – but the spaces are often underutilized, making it difficult to practice speaking with others.

“We need a lot more language resources here, especially just using languages in the professional world post-grad, and being able to have that language component on your resume is really important,” she said.

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