Yashuri Del Rosario Rodriguez

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — As Winthrop University celebrates breaking last year’s freshman application record, the Department of World Languages and Culture is celebrating its own growth and contributions to the campus.

“Overall, our majors have grown over the last 10 years by over 50 percent and that’s despite trends — national trends — in a decrease of language studies in middle school and high school,” said Scott Shinabargar, department chair and professor of French.

“This is all very frustrating for us, because we perceive how intercultural awareness and language — knowing other languages besides English — is increasingly important in a number of industries and, just in general, the world now,” he said.

According to a report conducted by the Embassy of France in the U.S., France is the second largest foreign source of employment in South Carolina. For example, there are a number of French-owned and French-affiliated businesses in the state, such as Sodexo and Michelin.

Olivia Dabbs, a junior French and English double major, said the smaller class sizes in the department has fueled her love for the French language and culture.

“It’s definitely gotten me more passionate about French as a whole, because I’m able to connect with the professors one-on-one. Their passion for it definitely shows you what it’s like to have a love for the language,” said Dabbs.

In outreach efforts, the department has partnered with Cherry Park Elementary School and Sullivan Middle School to expose students to the possibility of majoring in a foreign language. Both of the schools have Spanish and French immersion programs, which allow the children to begin their language studies at an earlier age.

“Bringing French students to our school would help us plan activities in small groups and help the students realize that it isn’t just their teachers who are speaking French, but a whole world of speakers out there who have their own unique accents, experiences and cultural awareness,” said Jenn Fant, a fifth grade teacher at Cherry Park and Winthrop graduate.

“Bringing French students to our school would also allow for the students to practice their French with people other than their teachers. It would add a level of excitement to speaking,” she said.

Alyssa Washington, a Spanish and mass communication double major, is currently the only Spanish major working with students at Sullivan Middle School.

As their mentor, she visits Sullivan’s after-school conversation program and practices with students in hopes of enhancing their language skills and helping them become more comfortable speaking outside of their native tongue.

“Working with the children at Sullivan Middle has been an enlightening experience. Seeing kids learn Spanish at that age shows the importance of language in our education and future careers,” said Washington.

According to a study conducted by South Carolina’s Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA), approximately 7,300 teachers in the state resigned from their positions after the 2017-2018 school year ended.

Shinabargar hopes to counteract these numbers by attracting prospective French and Spanish teachers to Winthrop.

To achieve this goal, the department has held events for high school students, including Feria SCSC last November, which was a competition for writing, speaking and spelling in Spanish.

Next fall, the Department of World Languages and Culture aims to partner with the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) to bring a similar event targeting prospective French education majors.

“This gets high school students on campus. They generally do competitions and games and get to visit Winthrop’s campus,” said Shinabargar.

Dabbs said she would like to see more people take advantage of the language courses offered at Winthrop. She said anyone who wants to travel or work internationally should try to grasp conversation skills through a language minor or major.

Additionally, she said she is eager to see the foreign language program grow even more.

“Booming. Booming, for sure. I want a lot of people to realize how amazing French is, just like I do. I want it to double, triple, and quadruple to the point that it is an even more successful major,” said Dabbs.