Languages at Wellesley: An Ongoing Center of Excellence

July 22, 2013

A new video by filmmaker Jennifer Tenican ’88 captures some of the benefits and pleasures of language study at Wellesley.

montage of scenes from video

Wellesley is a center of excellence for the teaching and learning of foreign languages. That has been the case for some time, and while not forgotten, the fact is so much part of Wellesley it can start to be taken for granted, like the scope and beauty of the campus.

Wellesley offers language courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili—a larger menu to choose from than almost all liberal arts colleges of its size.

“All language courses at Wellesley are taught by faculty members who bring to bear their years of experience in the classroom to make language learning an exciting and productive experience,” says Professor of Italian Studies David Ward, who is also chair of the Italian Studies Department and heads the committee of all language department chairs at Wellesley.

Each candidate for the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley must show, ordinarily before the beginning of her senior year, that she has some proficiency in the use of at least one language, ancient or modern, other than English. Ward and others encourage students to study a language while at Wellesley, even if they could test out of it. As he says, “It’s more and more important to leave college with a strong working knowledge of one or more foreign languages. It helps you on the job market; it proves your versatility; it shows you can deal with new systems of expression.”

Ward wanted to remind the Wellesley community and inform incoming students about the strength of languages at Wellesley. Shortly before the end of spring semester 2013 he joined forces with filmmaker Jennifer Tennican ’88 to communicate these ideas through video.

Tennican, who earlier this year produced a short film about the Pamela Daniels Fellowship, is based out of Wyoming, but was making a trip back to campus for her own reunion; after speaking to Ward, she agreed to make her trip east a busman’s holiday. She produced “Language Study at Wellesley College,” which captures some of the benefits and pleasures of language study at Wellesley.

“David did a great job wrangling ‘talent,’” says Tennican. The video features four graduating seniors, one alumna, and one faculty member. “Hearing firsthand about the scope and quality of Wellesley’s language studies from these engaging women made me proud to be an alumna,” she says. “The students featured in the video were clearly living up to Madeleine Albright’s urgings ‘to master a foreign language, study various cultures, explore alien customs, and travel overseas as much as possible.’ Behind the camera, I could see clearly that these women were benefitting from their language studies on many levels—developing an intercultural understanding and respect and intellectually and socially challenging themselves.”

Says Tennican: “I’m grateful the stars aligned and I could make this film for Wellesley. The experience has inspired me to continue to work on my Spanish. Once I’ve mastered that, on to Hindi-Urdu.”


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