POLYGlot Initiative Helps Students Learn New Languages

Mar 21, 2015
POLYGlot Initiative Helps Students Learn New Languages

Dr. Svetlana Tyutina is an Assistant Professor and Academic Success Advisor at Florida Poly. She also leads the POLYglot Initiative, a collective of informal language groups whose mission is to help students learn foreign languages and enhance their understanding of the multicultural society people live and work in today.

Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Russian and ASL (American Sign Language) are among the languages taught through the Initiative. The groups are informal, voluntary and very popular. Each group includes a student native speaker or a student proficient in the language. The POLYglot Initiative partnered with the University’s Success Scholars Program to enable students to use the leadership experience gained through the POLYglot Initiative to fulfill one of the requirements of that program. It has been a great fit.

My goal for all the groups is to make the process of acquisition of linguistic and cultural competency a fun and easy process. That is why we make an emphasis on the fact that the groups are informal,” said Dr. Tyutina, who holds two doctorates – in Spanish American Literature and in Romance Languages. “We embrace the flipped classroom approach where students not only do most of the work outside the meetings, but they are also spearheading the groups.

Dr. Tyutina is passionate about languages. In addition to English, she is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian, with working knowledge of Arabic and several other languages. One of her goals is to enable STEM students to be more successful in the modern multilingual and multicultural world.

Each group in the POLYglot Initiative gathers once a week, and the conversation usually starts with questions about some material they learned on they own since the last meeting. “There is no homework, no strict program, no mandatory attendance, but I have noticed over time that students learn much more – and much more efficiently – this way,” Dr. Tyutina said.

Unlike regular academic classes where attendance is often mandatory, there is nothing ‘forcing’ students to attend these informal language meetings, Dr. Tyutina noted, “unless it is their own curiosity and the fact that they feel comfortable and interested in the process.”

What compels students to learn another language through these informal groups? “Many, especially in Cyber Security, see the natural connection between their field and languages like Russian and Chinese,” Dr. Tyutina explained. “Also government jobs often provide higher salaries if you are proficient in more than one language. Finally, some of the students are already learning other languages in their classes, that is programming languages. We’ve had some heated debates about their connections to the natural languages.