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Malay I speak your language?

June 6, 2006
By Jayne Gest

Ohio University students use Southeast Asian language classes to help them gain research and traveling experience.

Why should Ohio University students study one of the Southeast Asian languages offered on campus?Indonesian, Thai or Vietnamese?

Elliot Field, a graduate student studying international affairs, jokes that for him, it has to do with the fact that there are no tenses in Indonesian, the language he studies. It also helps that learning a Southeast Asian language let him gain research and traveling experience.

Field studied the Indonesian language at Ohio University before traveling to Indonesia and Singapore last summer to conduct research on the relationship between transnational corporations and governments.

He is one of many Ohio University students to take Southeast Asian language classes and then put that knowledge to use by researching and visiting the region. Three of the 12 Ohio University Student Fulbright recipients for the 2006-07 academic year are traveling to Indonesia. 

Clarissa Kornell, a senior political science major, who was awarded a Fulbright teaching assistantship in Indonesia for next year, says by taking Indonesian language classes she was a stronger candidate for the scholarship. She adds that after she arrives in the country, it will help her with her research on how Islam is used to promote interreligious tolerance.

"Indonesian is a language that makes someone more marketable, whether you are interested in development, business, medicine, international relations, etc. Southeast Asia has been playing an increasingly important role in global affairs," she says.

Drew McDaniel, director of Southeast Asian Studies, says Indonesian is a great language for students to learn not only because of the importance, but because it's one of the easiest languages to learn.

The Indonesian language, which is a variant of the Malay language that's spoken in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, uses Roman script and has uncomplicated grammar. After studying intensively for two years, students can become relatively fluent while fulfilling their language requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences, he says.

Field had only studied the language for one year before he went to Indonesia, but he says he could get around well, mostly because the small classes he had taken earlier at Ohio University had been geared toward learning vocabulary helpful for research.

Field is taking his second year of the language now. He and his roommate, who also studied Indonesian at Ohio University, speak only Indonesian at home.

Sherry Spilker, a junior specialized studies major focusing on public policy, studies Thai for the simple reason that she fell in love with the culture and country when she traveled there in December 2004 as part of the Global Leadership Center. She wants to help women in Thailand who are victims of human trafficking and therefore needs to learn the language.

Even though Thai and Vietnamese languages aren't as easy to pick up as Indonesian and don't count for the College of Arts and Sciences language requirement, Spilker encourages students who are really interested in the area to learn the language.

"The professors are great, and very willing to help out. Plus there is a large Thai community of students on campus that are more than willing to tutor," she says, which helps make up for the obstacles. 

The Southeast Asian language program is often overlooked by students, Field says, but for him it's worth it because of the strong support network and unique opportunities to avoid the textbook summer abroad.

Jayne Gest is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.

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Published: Jun 6, 2006 12:00:00 AM
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