Fostering Community: Foreign Language Program at Hamilton Central School

Joe Mussomeli, Contributing Writer

One of the most influential programs for not just Colgate University’s linguistic community, but for both Colgate and the Village of Hamilton, has been the Foreign Language Program at Hamilton Central School ([email protected]). In this program, Colgate students volunteer to teach French, Arabic, Chinese and German to HCS second-graders six times a semester. Within each of the four language groups, there are two program coordinators, a faculty advisor and a multitude of Colgate student volunteers, all of whom work together to design a foreign language program for these young students. 

“One of the most important aspects of the program is how it has provided these second-graders with not just the opportunity to learn new languages, but to hear them and be exposed to them as well,” said program coordinator Rachel Amann-Burns. “The program allows students to become more worldly and be exposed to different languages and cultures that they might not have been exposed to before at all.”

Amann-Burns is one of the program coordinators for the [email protected] and has been a staunch supporter of the collaborative program and its impact on both the University and Hamilton communities. 

“The program has been running since 2005, and was started with a desire to increase language exposure and multi-cultural discourse across both Colgate and the community of Hamilton,” Amann-Burns said. “We realized that there were so many students at Colgate [who] were taking or knew another language, and the students and faculty wanted to share this knowledge with the wider Hamilton community in order for our campus and surrounding [area] to become more global and culturally exposed.”

In addition to fostering language and cultural exposure to the broader Hamilton community, many are proud of the program for its impact on HCS. However, perhaps the most critical impact has been the program’s effect on the children who participate in it. Many of the second-graders had not been exposed to a wide variety of languages before the program. Yet, after participating in it for just a semester, the second-graders have historically become much more adept at their language of choice in the [email protected] 

“Teaching children language at such a young age is the most important time to do so,” said program coordinator Julie Dudrick. “It provides a foundation for linguistic knowledge and brain development for younger students in addition to the cultural exposure the children are receiving.” 

The [email protected] not only shapes the exposure and experiences of its second-grade participants, but also dramatically alters the experiences and understanding of the Colgate volunteers. Many Colgate language students often find their passions enhanced through their participation in the program by not only having the ability to practice their language of choice, but by benefiting others through it, as well.

“I got involved in the program through my Arabic professor, Amany Ahmed,” said sophomore and [email protected] volunteer Simon Khairallah. “I was eager to participate and thought it was a great way to give back to the Hamilton community. Also, I thought it was cool that languages like Arabic were being taught. Having the opportunity to give back to the Hamilton community through the language I have learned at Colgate is a great opportunity to not just further my own practice of the language but [also] educate others who want to learn.”

Additionally, each session is planned ahead of time, with each day typically focusing on a specific topic for the children before the topic transitions into an activity where their newfound knowledge can be applied.

“[On] one typical day, we may be teaching them about food and how to order at a restaurant,” Khairallah explained. “To teach the class, we would run through a list of vocabulary words and phrases. Then we may pretend we are in a restaurant and have them use the words they learned to order food off of a menu we made. With little kids in particular, it is important to maintain their engagement and make the class fun, so we try to cater our activities to things that would interest them.” 

The ability to teach others and see the impact of one’s teaching details the reciprocal relationship between the University and the town of Hamilton. [email protected] has fostered a community where Colgate students can teach young children foreign languages, exposing them to different languages and cultures and drastically expanding their worldview and global prowess. Through participating in this program, Colgate students get to experience the effect their language teaching skills have had on the Hamilton students as the children gradually improve their linguistic skills over the course of the program.

“I would recommend this program to anyone interested in languages,” Khairallah said. “It helps others and helps you learn the languages as well through teaching. If you want to practice getting better at a language, teaching others to learn how to speak it is a great opportunity!”