ACV Guides: 5-College Center for the Study of World Languages

Photo: K. Stanton '18

Ever want to learn Icelandic? How about Swahili? Well, walk north on S. Pleasant St., and just past the Triangle (the three large former fraternity houses known as Hitchcock, Mayo-Smith and Seeley), you’ll find a white building next to the print shop called Collective Copies. Although students frequently miss it on their way into the town of Amherst, the space is home to the 5-College Center for the Study of World Languages. This center provides an opportunity for students to learn less commonly taught world languages, right here in the Pioneer Valley.

Because Amherst College is a member of the 5-College Consortium, you have the chance to take (for free!) a half or whole-credit course in one of many African, American, Asian, and European languages, such as Amharic (Ethiopian), Modern Greek, Dari (Afghani), Thai, American Sign Language, Hindi, and Urdu. Many Amherst College students start learning a new language at the center because of an interest in a specific country, a desire to connect with their cultural heritage, or to prepare for future work or travel plans. However, if a student comes to Amherst with some prior language experience or is conversationally fluent, but lack reading and writing skills, the center will place them in the appropriate level and modify their syllabus to address any pre-existing gaps in their language skills.

This past fall I took Turkish at the center and will continue Turkish study this semester. As I had previously learned a substantial amount of Turkish, the center gave me a language placement test and we focused my tutorial sessions on my grammar that needed the most work. My Turkish course was what they call a “Mentored Course,” a more guided course that included one-on-one tutorials with a language mentor and guided individual study. The course was not perfect—the textbook was at times too formal and did not resemble actual spoken Turkish. However, my mentor was an amazing person and my weekly tutorials were the highlight of my fall. The tutorials were a chance to not only learn new grammar and vocabulary, but also discuss Turkish politics and culture as well as our own lives.

Some languages are offered in a format known as “Supervised Independent Language Courses,” which require that the student study more on their own. In this format, the student studies on their own and meets weekly with a conversation partner to practice the new language skills they’ve learned that week. The type of class (Mentored or Independent) depends on the language, so check out the website to see what languages are currently being offered and in what format.

If you are not interested in learning a new language but are a native speaker of one of the languages that the 5-College Center for the Study of World Languages offers, you are also in luck! The center offers “generous compensation” to native speakers (according to Dutchman René Kooiker, a conversation partner for the center). Kooiker enjoys the relaxed, low-key tone of the sessions, and says that it’s fun to discuss what life is like in Holland and to teach his mentees Dutch slang.

It is pretty convenient to serve as a conversation partner – you can arrange your own schedule with the students, and the sessions are held at Amherst’s campus (Kooiker usually meets for conversation sessions in Frost, or outside if the weather is nice). No prior experience with tutoring is required, but if hired the center will provide online or in-person training.

If you are interested in either learning a new language or serving as a conversation partner, contact the 5-College Center for the Study of World Languages at, (413) 542-5264, or visit the building on 79 S. Pleasant St. As classes start shortly, I’d recommend contacting the center as soon as possible. Happy language learning!