Foreign language students study language of love

February 20, 2009

Foreign language students at Indiana State University recently spent a week learning about a slightly more universal form of communication--the language of love.

The 100-level instructors in the department of languages, literatures and linguistics are celebrating February as Foreign Languages Month.

During the week of Feb. 9, the instructors tailored the classes around the theme, "What's love got to do with it' Dating, Love and Marriage in Foreign Cultures."

German professor Jennifer Hilfer used the week to foster a discussion about the differences and similarities among German and American cultures when it comes to expressing love and affection.

"Love is such a precious thing and we need to be very respectful of it," Hilfer said. "It is very strong and therefore it's about more than just words."

Hilfer, a native of Germany who recently moved to the U.S., brought her guitar to class and played a German pop song by the artist Rosenstoltz. The title of the song translates to "Love is Everything."

Hilfer chose a modern song to illustrate how love has permeated all cultures throughout history. Her students joined her in singing the song after analyzing its grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure.

"Singing in a foreign language is always fun," said Tony Geralds, a senior music major. "We also learned a lot about interpersonal communication."

Class discussion during the week focused on courtships, marriage proposals and other common dating customs. Junior professional aviation major Christopher Marlowe lived in Germany for 12 years and was able to offer some unique insight to his classmates.

"Respect levels are different between people," he said. "In Germany, couples work to try to build more of an emotional attachment."

Hilfer hopes the activities gave her students a greater appreciation for the cultural and historical definitions of love so they can see common values and reach a common understanding.

"Students need to really understand that there is not only one meaning of love," she said. "There are several factors involved."

Instructors in Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish also created love-themed lessons plans for the week. Activities focused cultural analysis in American dating versus that of other cultures and included research projects on wedding traditions, symbolism and culturally appropriate flirtatious comments.

Languages, literatures and linguistics graduate students from Morocco, Columbia, Mexico and Germany led a discussion about traditional wedding ceremonies in their own countries during an event held in the library. Over 50 students turned out to hear the first-hand accounts.

The purpose of the "love campaign" was three-fold, said Spanish professor Lisa Calvin.

"It was designed to promote an interest in discussion about foreign languages around the campus as 100-level language students of different languages discuss what they learned with friends and roommates," she said. "It also demonstrates that learning another language opens doors to new cultures and new ways of thinking about something so basic, and so important, as love."

The third purpose, Calvin said, was to unite 100-level classes in similar instruction on the same day to maximize the impact campus-wide.

In addition to classroom activities, the week also featured a display in Root Hall with facts about wedding customs and lists of words related to love and marriage written in different languages.

This marks the third year that Foreign Languages Month has been celebrated at ISU. The month is sponsored by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

-30-

Photo: German professor Jennifer Hilfer plays the guitar and leads students in singing a German pop song about love. (ISU/Tony Campbell)

Contact: Lisa Calvin, associate professor of Spanish, Indiana State University, 812-237-2363 or lcalvin@indstate.edu

Writer: Emily Taylor, assistant director of media relations, Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or etaylor16@indstate.edu