Rebecca F. Kuang Book Signing at the Daniel Family Commons

c/o Sida Chu, Assistant News Editor

The Fries Center for Global Studies (FCGS) kicked off its first Power of Language Week, a celebration of language learning, multilingualism, and the preservation of lesser-known languages, on Monday, Feb. 20. 

Originating as a single-day conference in 2018, Power of Language has since expanded into a week full of programming with over 20 events, including lectures, game nights, language tables, and film screenings. Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) Director Morgan Keller explained that the mission of the week is to promote language learning and bring recognition to some lesser-known languages spoken on campus.

“The themes of this year’s Power of Language Week are raising awareness of and celebrating the linguistic diversity represented in our campus community, self-determination to preserve one’s mother tongue, and the protection of critical languages,” Keller wrote in an email to The Argus. 

Multilingual Writing Fellow Cyn Le ’22 hopes the events encourage appreciation for the diverse array of languages present on campus.

“I think that it’s important to remember that while English is the main language that we use here, other languages aren’t just ‘extra’ or ‘additional,’” Le wrote in an email to The Argus. “The expressions, ideas, and frames of mind that come with those languages are unique and invaluable, and they’re just as present even if we don’t see [them].” 

According to Keller, another goal of Power of Language week is to highlight the Bengali Language Movement in the 1950s, a series of protest efforts to make Bengali an official language of the Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) area. The movement also inspired the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to create the International Mother Language Day, which falls on Tuesday, Feb. 21. As such, a special focus of the week will be on upholding and celebrating native languages spoken by students. 

To plan the event, the Wesleyan Internationalization Team assembled a steering committee, which consisted of members of FCGS, OISA, and the multilingual unit of the Writing Center. The committee was headed by Global Language and Outreach Fellow Verónica Socorro Matos and included Keller, Le, Assistant Director of Intercultural Learning Anita Deeg-Carlin, and Assistant Professor of the Practice in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Elizabeth Ann Hepford, as well as many members of FCGS and other University departments. The chief task of the committee entailed outreach to various stakeholders to encourage their involvement in Power of Language Week. 

“In the Wesleyan community, there are more than [70] languages spoken,” Matos wrote in an email to The Argus. “I knew that with the right encouragement, we could have a rich week of events where members from our campus community could participate and celebrate their language roots!”

For the kickoff event on Monday, FCGS welcomed acclaimed author Rebecca F. Kuang to the Daniel Family Commons for a conversation about traditionalism, colonialism, and translation, topics discussed in her recent book “Babel: An Arcane History.” Through her portrayal of experiences of Chinese, Indian, and Haitian protagonists at Oxford University in the 1800s, Kuang’s book focuses on the effects of colonialism and imperialism on native languages. During the talk, Kuang chatted with students about a myriad of topics, including Buddhism, labor unions, artificial intelligence, Audre Lorde, and rocks. 

Director of FCGS Stephen Angle spoke highly of Kuang and her book.

“‘Babel’ is a critically acclaimed best-seller that has disputes, debates, and violence over language at its core,” Angle wrote in an email to the Argus. “The book offers no easy answers about the damage that colonialism and imperialism can do to languages and cultures around the world, but it brings them into sharp focus by imagining an alternative history in which mastery of multiple languages—and especially languages that are rare in 1830s England—gives one power.” 

Following the talk, students queued to get copies of Kuang’s book signed. Nicole Lee ’24, who attended the event, found it very insightful.

“I think we’re incredibly lucky to have gotten to hear her speak so in depth about the contents of her book and the landscapes surrounding language in general,” Lee said. “Going forward, whether we realize it or not, this will continue to influence the way we think of languages.”

A variety of multilingual events will take place throughout the week. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, ASL Professor Pedro Pascual will lead a “Deaf in America and/et Sourd(e) en France” session at 12 p.m. in Fisk 201, where the cultural differences and depiction of the deaf community will be discussed. A Japanese-language lunch lecture titled “Living, Learning, and Crossing Borders: An Interview with Professor Selinger” will happen on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 12 p.m. in Fisk 209, while Professor of Jewish Studies Avner Shavit will hold a talk called “Eurovision: Is Music a Universal Language?” on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. in Fisk 201. On Friday, Feb. 24 at 4 p.m., Keller will join Hepford and Professor of Education Teresa Speciale for a panel on “Envisioning an English Teaching Journey in a Colonized World” in Olin 014. A calligraphy event, a Spanish TV game show, and language game nights are some of the other highly anticipated events during the week. 

“My hope is that students, faculty, and staff alike will attend at least one session, participate in thought-provoking discussions and fun language practice activities, and come away having learned something new about linguistic diversity at Wes,” Keller wrote. “[I also hope that students] develop a new/renewed interest in learning a language.”

Keller also explained some of the details of the University’s multilingual community. 

“[Director of Language Resources and Technology at FCGS] Emmanuel Paris-Bouvret recently confirmed for me that we currently have at least 78 different languages represented on campus,”  Keller wrote. “From some recent data collection I did via the Office of Admission, we also know that there are at least 42 languages represented in the undergraduate international student community; 97% of F-1 undergraduate international students speak at least two languages; and 72% of F-1 undergraduate international students are English Language Learners.” 

Beyond official statistics, Deeg-Carlin reflected positively on her daily experiences with multilingualism on campus.

“[I]n Fisk…we hear (and with ASL, see!) multiple languages every day, all day, whether in the stairwell, in the Commons, in language or cultural gatherings, or in classrooms,” Deeg-Carlin wrote in an email to The Argus. “Yesterday for example, I learned how to say ‘have fun’ in sign language from a student I’d never met. The other day, I got to sit at the German language table, and there’s always a colleague around to practice French or Spanish with. There’s always a chance to practice a language you know or explore a new one.”

Le, however, expressed feeling like the University’s multilingual community exists in smaller pockets of campus life.

“Most of the time I only hear other languages through passing conversations and occasional events, so the multilingualism on campus isn’t readily apparent,” Le wrote.“I also think that it’s important to acknowledge Standard Language Ideology, and to actively remind ourselves that the standards for academic English that we work under were arbitrarily set by white men several decades ago.”

While acknowledging the necessity of using English to further academic and professional goals, Le also expressed optimism that multilingualism will flourish on campus in the near future. 

“Understanding that things are slowly changing, and that our use of language outside of the standards isn’t bad or deficient, is important to encouraging a proud and thriving multilingual community.” Le wrote.

Deeg-Carlin pointed to a variety of in-person and online programs that provide additional support for language learning on campus, including program houses, language tables, Critical Language Scholarships, and Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum courses, which are courses taught in non-English. Deeg-Carlin also highlighted the power of technology in language learning.

“Zoom technology is an obvious start,” Deeg-Carlin wrote. “[Director of the Office of Study Abroad] Emily Gorlewski and I are working on promoting ‘COIL’ partners (Collaborative Online International Learning) which will bring classrooms around the world to our campus virtually by connecting them to courses and faculty here across the curriculum.”

Keller mentioned programs co-hosted by OISA that uplift international students who are English Language Learners, including the “Academia, Culture & Campus Life” Coursera course, the “Adjusting to Academia at Wesleyan as a New International Student” workshops, and the WesSpeaks initiative.

“As we look ahead to the next academic year, our team at OISA also intends to offer programs that are inclusive of both international and U.S. domestic students, such as what has been the International Buddy Program (IBP), to facilitate more peer-to-peer intercultural engagement, learning, mentorship, and community-building between these groups,” Keller wrote.    

In addition to the weekly Multilingual Write-Ins, Le brought up the language partner program in the College of East Asian Studies, where students who are native speakers get paid for tutoring language learners, as a model for language learning programs.

“While it’s wonderful for language learners to interact with native speakers, I think that it places a burden on the native speaker to teach and correct the language learner, which can make it unnecessarily stressful,” Le wrote. “Paying native speakers for their time not only eases that burden, but also encourages them to use and practice their native language, which can be difficult at Wesleyan.” 

Le recognizes the difficulties of learning a language when students only have exposure in classes, in part due to the ever-evolving nature of languages and cultures and in part due to the limited class time allotted to language learning, and stressed community as an important factor in language-learning.

“Being open about the languages that you’re learning and finding others to watch shows, practice vocab, and speak with you is really the key,” Le wrote. “On the side of faculty and staff, providing students with the opportunities to find and connect with others, but also taking the step to do so ourselves is an important step in creating a more open and welcoming environment for language learning.”

Keller expressed his enthusiasm as the steering committee’s vision for the Power of Language Week comes to fruition. He hopes this initiative will become an annual tradition.

“My hope is that Wesleyan will continue to be an institution that not only epitomizes exceptional linguistic and cultural diversity, but also actively creates opportunities to promote multilingualism and engage in intercultural sharing and language learning both within academic spaces and beyond classroom walls,” Keller wrote. 

Deeg-Carlin also hopes that through the events of Power of Language Week students who speak multiple languages feel celebrated, recognized, and proud. 

“I hope that language learners are inspired to keep going, or to pick up a new language—particularly a less commonly studied one, or even an indigenous language—not necessarily with the goal of fluency, but to explore the diversity of humanity through linguistic nuance,” Deeg-Carlin wrote. “And I hope that overall, as a community, we are reminded about how crucial multilingualism is in addressing global crises.”

Hoping to see greater visibility of other languages on campus, Le encouraged students to submit multilingual sticker designs to her via email for a contest she is organizing. The winners will receive a free button or other merchandise with their own design. Le also wishes that the embrace of multilingualism on campus will go beyond the scope of the Power of Language Week.

“I’d like for it to be much more prominent and for our community to see, hear, and use their own languages on a daily basis, rather than celebrating it during a specific week or day,” Le wrote. 

Nicole Lee is an Assistant Arts & Culture Editor for The Argus.

Sida Chu can be reached at

Carolyn Neugarten can be reached at

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