Language Learning Center provides fun, stress-free environment for students
Thursday, February 17, 2022
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A cacophony of voices fill the room on the first floor of Gundersen Hall. Some are fluent, others not so much, but that doesn’t matter in the new Language Learning Center.
It is a Thursday afternoon, which means the Oklahoma State University Spanish Club is in session. More than a dozen students sprawl through the big, open space either working on homework, talking to a tutor or even just chatting with friends.
One of the only rules of Spanish Club is to speak the language as much as you can. And whether the students are advanced or just getting into the language, everyone is welcome.
“Spanish Club has been huge for me. It is an extra four hours a week outside of class,” said OSU senior Jali Robertson, president of the club. “I was very nervous the first few times I went. I was only in my third Spanish class and it was mostly grammar so we didn’t have to speak a whole lot. It is a great place to get out of your comfort zone with no judgment.”
Having a place for not only Spanish Club students, but any of the several clubs the Department of Languages and Literatures offers was prudent in creating the Language Learning Center.
A space that sat dormant for a few years, it now consists of a large classroom, as well as a couple of smaller tutoring rooms and a common area with a snack station for students to relax.
Dr. Erik Ekman, head of languages and literatures, said the center was something the department had thought of since 2017, when the business classes that used to be there left for the new Business Building.
The center was scheduled to open in Spring 2020, but then COVID-19 happened. Now, after a slow launch, students are really starting to take advantage of the space. Ekman said he sees students filter in and out all day.
“They make friends and they get community and a chance to practice. A chance to exchange information about their majors,” Ekman said. “... The club is a sense of community and makes the language a bit more real if you can’t go abroad.”
With most language classes dealing with the proper grammar, having a space outside the classroom to practice it in conversation is crucial.
“The reason we do this is they spend a lot of time in class answering specific things. That is one form of communication that is important,” said Dr. Matthew O'Neill, a lecturer in Spanish. “Like the formalized kind of interaction but the one thing that you can really only imitate is actual conversational dynamics. You can only do that by studying abroad and being in the first language environment or in an environment where there are no grades and nobody is having points counted off or anything like that. It is what we try to simulate while we are here.”
Before the Language Learning Center opened, the Spanish Club used to meet at the Daily Grind coffee shop off campus. Now that there is a more centralized space on campus to meet Mondays and Thursdays, every club feels like it has a home.
The Department of Languages and Literatures offers several clubs along with Spanish, including: French, German, Japanese, Russian, American Sign Language and a Cowboy Classics Club.
Robertson — a native of Fairview, Oklahoma, who is double majoring in political science and global studies with a minor in Spanish — said she became interested in learning another language in high school. It has taken a lot of work, but she feels confident in her fluency now and believes having a place like the Language Learning Center gave her a place to practice that has really helped her.
“It is really encouraging to go and talk to other students and actually get to use the language,” Robertson said. “You can talk about news stories or if you watched so-and-so movie, stuff you don’t really get to talk about in the classroom. It is a place you can go and feel comfortable with. It is a lot more intimidating to speak up in a class in Spanish than it is to just talk in a group about things that you talk with your friends about.”
The Language Learning Center can be found at 104 Gundersen and information on the Department of Languages and Literatures, along with the various clubs, can be found at languages.okstate.edu.