Indiana State University Newsroom

Language study opens opportunities for students

February 24, 2011

Pedro Ramirez began to count the languages he speaks. There's Spanish and, of course, English.

"Czech, if that counts," said the freshman from Los Angeles before tacking on languages that interest him as well. "I'm really fascinated with Russian, maybe Italian or French. I kind of like concentrating on the eastern side of Europe."

At Indiana State University, the language studies major can study the languages he wants to learn.

"There's something about languages with their uniqueness and complexity," said the student who wants to work as an interpreter. "It's a challenge."

While no faculty teach Czech, Leslie Barratt, literature, languages and linguistics department chair, found a native speaker living in Terre Haute to teach Ramirez. Though Ramirez doesn't receive college course credit for studying Czech now, he's looking forward to spending a semester studying abroad in the Czech Republic.

Multiple language offerings and mandatory study abroad create the core component of Indiana State's language studies major, a unique unification in higher education.

"Most universities have separate departments," Barratt said. "They might combine related languages such as Asian languages or Romance languages. TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) is very rarely in a language department."

But ISU combines Arabic with Italian and Chinese with Greek in its offerings, which include Latin, German, French, Spanish and Japanese. Students can major or minor in language studies and earn a TESL certificate, which will enable them to teach abroad.

"For ISU, putting these all together has enabled us to have so much synergy and collaboration," Barratt said.

Tara Knopp, a senior language studies major from Dayton, Ohio, and Jack Ciancone, a junior language studies major from Terre Haute, have completed their studies abroad.

"The thing that made it unique for me is that it is so accessible to study abroad," said Knopp, who spent six months in Costa Rica perfecting her Spanish. "It really caps off your learning. It challenges you."

"The program will set you up with amazing opportunities," said Ciancone, who spent a year in Japan. "You can go there and immerse yourself in language and culture."

And the students find themselves changed in the process.

"You learn how to make mistakes gracefully," Ciancone said. "You really gain an insight to how another country works. There are rules to be obeyed. Japan is very, very formal. You can almost pick up the wind changes when you're doing something wrong."

"I learned so fast how to network and what that really meant," Knopp said. "I dug a lot of ground for when I start my life here or I go abroad."

Barratt said part of the reason the language studies majors find jobs after graduation is because of confidence gained during their studies abroad.

"Study abroad sets you apart because it shows your adaptability and flexibility," Barratt said. "If you can overcome the challenges of (travel abroad), then that's a good characteristic to have."

Even in tough economic times, employers have hired ISU students who studied languages, according to Barratt.

"Because no matter what they're going into, they have a leg up on a person who doesn't have a language," she said. "Having another language opens up another clientele."

Ramirez called language studies an interesting field that opens up opportunities.

"There's a lot you can explore. It branches. You can minor if you don't want to major. You can learn a lot about the world and then you can go practice it," he said.

Jack Ciancone poses with sumo wrestlers and a friend in Japan. Courtesy photo
Tara Knopp poses on a beach in Costa Rica. Courtesy photo

Contact: Leslie Barratt, Indiana State University, chair of languages, literatures and linguistics department, at or 812-237-2677

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at or 812-237-7972