Are you keen on Kurdish, curious about Creole or dying to decipher Dzongkha? If the 50 or so languages in the Blue Book simply aren’t enough to strike your fancy, or if you’ve been set on mastering a specific tongue since birth, the Directed Independent Language Study program might be just what you’re looking for.
DILS caters to students who are interested in languages not officially taught at Yale. It gives students the resources they need to learn independently and matches them with native speakers — known as “language partners” — to help guide their study.
“It’s a really smart program,” said Erica Pohnan FES ’12, who has been studying Thai with DILS since last spring. “No university has the resources to offer classes in every single language in the world.”
This semester, DILS accepted 55 students seeking instruction in 30 languages, said DILS director Angela Gleason.
Gleason said the number of applicants to DILS has grown exponentially since the program began in 2001, but the program has remained capped at around 50 students. “It has more to do with funding than it does anything else.”
Students and their language partners meet informally twice a week, either one-on-one or in small groups.
Sanjena Sathian ’13 was already taking Hindi at Yale last spring when she decided she wanted to pick up Nepali through DILS to prepare for a summer research project on gender equity policy and development in Nepal.
Sathian said she was by no means fluent by the time she left for Nepal, but she had a good enough grasp of the basics to sustain a conversation, even for as long as 45 minutes. “I learned a ton — it gives you a great initial foundation in a nonstressful environment,” she said.
Sameer Kwatra FES ’12, the Punjabi language partner for DILS, said she likes the flexibility of the program. “The language partners do not follow a set curriculum,” she said. “We refer to newspapers, folk songs, popular songs on YouTube and more.”
Students cannot take DILS for Yale credit, but Milia Kovacevic Stevic, the Serbo-Croatian language partner, said her two students are nevertheless highly motivated. “They are eager to invest their own time and study,” she said. “It’s great to work with them.”
Stevic, who moved to the United States from Belgrade five years ago, became a language partner after hearing about DILS from her husband, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature.
Gleason said DILS recruits around 75 percent of the language partners from within the Yale Community or around the New Haven area. “I’ve been really impressed,” she said. “If you scratch the surface of New Haven, you find an incredible diversity in the demographic here.”
In the event that a language partner cannot be found locally, however, Gleason looks for native speakers who can video-conference with DILS students.
With the help of a webcam, Chelsea Wells ’13 is learning Choctaw from a native speaker who lives in her hometown in Oklahoma.
Wells, an American studies major, said she wanted to learn Choctaw because she is fascinated by Native American history and wants to connect with her heritage.
Wells said that the number of Choctaw speakers in Oklahoma has shrunk considerably since her grandparents’ generation, and that most Choctaw people she knows are only familiar with a few words or phrases.
But the Choctaw language is essential to an understanding of Choctaw history and culture. “The Choctaw Nation is trying to build the language back up by implementing it in high schools in Oklahoma,” said Wells. “I’ve always felt like I should learn it.”
Wells said she has applied to take Choctaw again next semester. “It might be useful in my studies for a senior thesis, being able to translate primary texts myself,” she said. “I’ve also thought about helping the tribe with teaching the language to youth in the Nation.”
Pohnam said that DILS is important because it adapts to students’ language needs. “Maybe next year no one wants to learn Thai, but there are people who want Burmese,” she said. “DILS is a good way to create a demand-driven language program to offer the most with the least amount of resources.”
The DILS application deadline for the spring semester is Oct. 15.