With every hop on a hopscotch square comes a number in Arabic, with every number comes a color, with every color comes a fruit, and with every hop comes learning. This is the approach the instructors of the "Bridges: Children, Languages, World" project take to ignite the passion for language and culture in young learners.
The Bridges project started at Indiana University in 2009 and connects volunteer students and faculty to children and families in the community eager to learn a foreign language. Focusing on lesser-taught languages, the project focused this semester on Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Japanese.
"The hope is for this program to bring us all together to expose the children of the community to different languages and different cultures," said Suriati Abas, coordinator of the Bridges program.
For volunteers like Emily Vetne, an IU Bloomington undergraduate studying Holocaust history and Islamic studies, building bridges is a concept that stretches beyond language learning classes to serve as a connection between the campus and community.
"It's such a good way to integrate campus life but also off-campus life and feel more at home in the city of Bloomington as well as on campus," she said.
The first step is to teach basics of the language, and that is done mainly through games and activities for the students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade.
It is the opportunity to work with some of the youngest learners that appeals to volunteer instructor Rachel Myers, a graduate student at IU Bloomington.
"When I was growing up, I really wanted to take language classes, but there weren't really opportunities for little kids in my community," said Myers, who grew up in Wooster, Ohio. "It's really exciting to see these kids start to get excited about Russian."
Another vital component of the program is teaching cultural aspects, which is near and dear to many of the instructors. IU graduate student Ali Alsmadi, a native Arabic speaker, grew up in Jordan. While looking for opportunities to extend out from his studies at IU, he found Bridges and quickly realized he can learn just as much from the kids as they can from him.
"It was the flavor I was always looking for, to be able to be teaching kids through games and activities," Alsmadi said. "I think it's a dimension we can all bring into our classrooms."
Bridges offered five languages this semester and hopes to offer more in the future by way of community partnerships and volunteers. More information can be found on the Bridges' Facebook page.