Celebrating a Decade of Less Commonly Taught Languages at Duke and Beyond

A group of faculty listen to Deb Reisinger present
Deb Reisinger gives the opening address at the anniversary event.

On March 2nd, faculty from Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Virginia convened on the latter’s campus to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Partnership for Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTLs), a consortium of three universities that has aimed to expand access to key languages from priority regions.

Through online synchronous courses taught by instructors from the three schools, students can study languages not typically offered at other U.S. colleges, including Haitian Creole, Swahili, K’iche’ Maya, and Turkish. Beyond an opportunity to learn a new language and fulfill institutional world language requirements, these courses have also introduced undergraduate and graduate students to new cultural and historical contexts.

Such has been the case with Malagasy, an official language of the island country of Madagascar that was piloted by the Department of Romance Studies in the fall of 2022. Malagasy classes are available thanks to the initiative of two doctoral students affiliated with Duke research labs who worked with the Partnership’s director Deb Reisinger to secure funding from the Office of Global Affairs and the Dean of the Humanities. Following a successful pilot, Malagasy classes will be offered through the Partnership beginning in fall 2023, offering courses not only to students at the three institutions but to researchers and community members interested in learning Malagasy from around the country.

Discussions about these initiatives and their growth in the past 10 years were the focus of the anniversary event. Language faculty and administrative staff participated in workshops, discussed enrollment strategies, and shared pedagogical best practices. UVA students also had the chance to meet instructors they had until then only corresponded with online. Among Duke faculty at the event were Dr. Reisinger, Lecturing Fellow of Romance Studies Jacques Pierre, Associate Professor of the Practice Didem Havlioglu, and Instructor of Romance Studies Tendry Randriamanana.

Since the inception of this partnership, Duke has expanded not only its language offerings but also the scope of learning and cultural experiences available to students. That has been the aim of the consortium for the last decade, and Reisinger looks forward to expanding the Partnership further. Vanderbilt will offer Tagalog to students in fall 2024, and an additional language will be introduced in 2025.