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Language Fair brings cultures together

By Alex Capriel
On March 20, 2014

 The University of Memphis will host the annual Language Fair Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the University Center.
The fair will showcase various levels of skill over a range of languages from local high school students as well as students from Mississippi.
"Thinking globally, the world is becoming more connected because of technology and business," Errol O'Neill, assistant professor of French and co-director of the fair, said. "We want to help students realize that knowing about other languages and cultures can be a plus for them."
With a projected attendance of over 1,000 students, there will be a plethora of culturally enriching events to experience such as arts and crafts, costumes, music and dance.
The Culture Bowl, a competition allowing students to compete against one another, will reward students for their accomplishments, as well as nurture a growing interest in linguistic studies.
The Language Fair not only recognizes the student's prowess but also awards a Teacher of the Year award to one instructor. O'Neill said they're looking for someone who shows a passion for foreign language and has made a positive impact on students.
"Many people see taking a foreign language as something that they have to do as a requirement," O'Neill said. "It takes dedication and enthusiasm on the part of the teacher to help their students to (look) beyond that."
William Thompson, head of the Foreign Language Department, said the Study Abroad office will have a table at the Language Fair.
"That's one thing that we want to make the high school students aware of," Thompson said. "Whether they are interested in coming to the University of Memphis or not, if they are studying languages, they should think about studying abroad because everybody comes back changed from that experience."
The theme for the fair this year is "Polyglots have more fun."
According to Junko Tokuda, instructor of Japanese and co-director of the fair, the Foreign Language Department holds a meeting every year alongside high school teachers where they decide the fair's theme.
"The teachers give us some suggestions and we, on the committee, vote and decide," Thompson said.
While the primary focus of the fair is on the high school students, there are available options for non-students to get in on the fun. There will be mini-classes teaching those who are interested how to learn phrases in other languages. For those not interested in learning phrases, there will be dance classes.
The Language Fair does provide the University with the chance for recruitment, but students who attend are able to meet with likeminded peers who share interests.
According to Robert Kelz, assistant professor of German and last year's fair director, the language fair offers high school students the opportunity to meet peers who share similar interests.  
"For high school students, it's important because it gives them the opportunity to meet and network with other students who are studying similar languages," Kelz said.  "Your input is limited if the only language you know is English. It's good to have variety of sources, and I think that just adds an immeasurable degree of richness to life in every aspect."

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