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New Language-Immersion House at UC Will Have No Tongue-Tied Students

Students in a new residence adjacent to the University of Cincinnati are jumping head-over-heels at the chance to immerse themselves “24-7” in living, working, studying and playing -- all in either French or Spanish.

Date: 7/22/2005 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot  

In September, the University of Cincinnati will become one of only a handful of universities across the country with a language-immersion house – a free-standing residence where students are required to live, work, study and play  “24-7” in another language. 

Students Julie Hollyday, left, and Elizabeth Mayersky will both live on the Spanish floor of UC's Valentine House.

In this case, the 22 undergraduate residents of Valentine House, located at 2629 Clifton Ave., will opt to live and learn Spanish or French, according to Lowanne Jones, associate professor of French and chair of UC’s Romance Languages & Literature Department.   

Seed funding for the house – in the form of $100,000 – was made possible by former UC Spanish student Margaret Valentine, who currently teaches Spanish to home-schooled children.  She explained, “I was lucky in that my mother arranged for me to take Spanish lessons when I was four years old.  By the time I finished elementary school, I was fluent.”

Valentine added that she sees the language house as an educational asset.  “Immersion, learning and studying a language and living in another culture as much as possible are requisites for language acquisition among college students,” she said.  “It’s an option for students who may not have the opportunity to study abroad and an added value to draw top students to language studies at UC.”

Others contributing to the founding of the house include local attorney Dick Dusterberg; Susan Sadlier, director of international programs at UC’s College of Business and her husband Daniel Sadlier, as well as all the faculty in UC’s Romance Languages & Literature Department.

UC’s language-immersion house makes perfect sense given the dramatic rise in enrollment in foreign-language classes both at UC and nationally.  Explained Jones, “The demand for language courses is expanding rapidly in several directions.  For one, Spanish is exploding.  We have 20 percent more Spanish majors this year over last.  All languages are seeing their numbers rise, but Spanish trumps them all.  We cannot offer enough Spanish sections, cannot find enough teachers…”

“French and Portuguese are also rising… Two years ago, we offered no Arabic.  Now, we’re in our second year with 60 students.  We went from zero to 60 like that,” she said while snapping her fingers. 

In recent years, more colleges and universities across the country are beginning language-immersion programs of some sort, whether in residence halls or in free-standing houses.  Many schools choose to house such programs in the residence halls in order to limit expenses; however, the stand-alone houses tend to enjoy the most enduring success. 

To facilitate language learning in Valentine House, the living environment will include:

  • Two resident advisors, one a native French speaker and the other a native Spanish speaker
  • The requirement that residents take one language course at UC
  • A weekly language course in the house
  • A large-screen TV in the first-floor lounge permanently tuned to channels from Europe
  • Cultural events like film festivals in the appropriate language of study

Valentine House actually consists of one half of the building at 2629 Clifton Ave.  The other half of the house is designated for UC’s Taft Scholars.

Of the Valentine half of the house, one floor is devoted to French language immersion, while another floor is devoted for Spanish language immersion.  Eleven undergraduate students live on each language floor.  Amenities include:

  • two one-bed rooms
  • three two-bed rooms
  • one three-bed room
  • a lounge with books and a large-screen television

In addition, both floors will share:

  • a seminar room
  • a library
  • an outdoor patio
  • a basement kitchen and open space