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Program speaks the language of engagement

Campus Clean Up Day
In the Coykendall Science Building, instructor Denise Springer (center) speaks to her Language Immersion Institute class about French cuisine in French, of course. Students spend their breaks during the day-long class chatting in French or leafing through French magazines. Photo by Lee Conell

Adult learners can gain entry to a new culture through the Language Immersion Institute (LII), a public continuing education program located on campus.

The institute, which will relocate to 62 Plattekill Ave. during the Old Main Building renovation, offers courses in more than 20 languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), Arabic, Hungarian, Russian and Yiddish.

In 2007, approximately 1,000 people attended a LII program, including the seven overseas programs. LII offers intensive two-week classes in July, and weekend classes throughout the year in New Paltz and New York City.

LII has been housed at New Paltz since it was founded in 1981 by Henry Urbanski, then a Russian professor at the college. Urbanski retired as director in 2005 and Annie Gallin took his place in 2006. Gallin's staff includes three program coordinators: Janis Benincasa, Aileen Hanel and Pamela Knittel.

The total immersion process draws a diverse crowd of students, including retirees preparing to travel abroad; business people who want to be able to communicate more directly with their international colleagues; and teachers who need cross-certification in another language. No matter what the reasons are for attending, Gallin said LII students seek rapid proficiency in a foreign language.

The immersion process encourages students to learn a new language through conversation rather than rote memorization. "In our classes, we introduce topics and the grammar is presented as needed," said Gallin.

Gallin, who also teaches Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages at the college, has been a firm believer in LII's teaching methods ever since her first experience with language immersion as an undergraduate. When a debate in Spanish about Christopher Columbus turned to the issue of genocide, she realized the process allowed students to deal with gripping subject matter while gaining a better grasp of a new language.

Gallin is eager to see New Paltz faculty and staff, for whom classes are half-price, discover the benefits of the immersion process.

"We'd love to have more attend our programs," she said.

The classes are also beneficial for students at the college, who can brush up on their language skills before studying abroad, or prepare for an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), a test that assesses speaking ability in a language.

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