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High school language learners create projects on health, education and climate at UNC-Chapel Hill

World language students from 12 high schools conducted and presented research in their language of study on topics related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals during a symposium hosted by Carolina's Area Studies Centers.

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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a virtual awards ceremony to celebrate teams from the seventh annual Learning Through Languages High School Research Symposium on Dec. 8. This year, world language students from 12 high schools conducted and presented research in their language of study on topics related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Thirty-one teams were assigned a world region to research and then prepared summative briefings in their languages of study on one of the following topics: good health and well-being, quality education and climate action. In addition to the briefing, students prepared a digital project visual to showcase their findings. Eligible students included high-level Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish language learners, including heritage speakers. Projects were then judged and scored by Carolina and Duke faculty, instructional staff and graduate students.

Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs at UNC-Chapel Hill, provided welcoming remarks at the ceremony.

“All the effort that you spend now learning languages is both school learning and a deep human learning,” Colloredo-Mansfeld told the students. “It builds the possibility within you to be a participant—to be a quick learner—in the flow of life in international settings.”

The student symposium was held in conjunction with two expert-led panels designed to support educators in teaching world languages: Supporting Less-Commonly Taught Language Teaching in North Carolina and Future Directions for Heritage Teaching and Dual Language Immersion in North Carolina.

The panel on less-commonly taught languages brought together experts from backgrounds in varying levels of education, diverse parts of the state and different languages to discuss challenges and opportunities to support teaching these languages in North Carolina. Panelists highlighted the challenges of keeping students enrolled beyond introductory classes in less-commonly taught languages at the university level.

“It’s important that we look at high schools as a starting point because that way, when students come in, they’re not starting at the beginning level,” said Mike Turner, assistant professor of Arabic at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. “There are a lot of opportunities that open up in terms of being able to study abroad and really communicate in languages.”

Experts from the panel on the future of heritage teaching and dual language immersion stressed the importance of heritage language learning and preservation.

“As a state, we’re very linguistically diverse with at least 330 languages other than English being used in North Carolina students’ homes,” said Ann Marie Gunter, world languages consultant at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. “This makes heritage language education a priority.”

The symposium is a collaboration of the African Studies Center; the Carolina Asia Center; the Center for European Studies; the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies; the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies; the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies; and the UNC Russian Flagship Program.