Iowa State hosts over 850 student organizations and about 1.8 percent of them are student-led language clubs, according to the Student Activities Center website.
Even though Iowa State faculty already teach 10 world language courses, the university doesn’t prevent its students from creating student-led language classes, which are being taught by primarily native-language speaking students.
Student-led classes combine language learning with cultural experiences. Iowa State’s language classes are intended to be challenging, as the purpose of the classes is to train students in a language.
Student organizations that have student-led classes create them with the purpose of immersing students in the culture and creating them with an easier curriculum in mind. Because of the differing goals, the two styles classes are based on allows them to complement each other.
Iowa State’s language classes are scheduled for four days a week, while student-led language classes are typically offered only once a week.
There are many similarities between the two course styles, such as both offering beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Beginner classes focus on simple sentence structure, grammar and everyday phrases, whereas intermediate and advanced levels explore more difficulty in the development of literacy.
With Iowa State only offering 10 different language classes, there's the possibility of leaving out other languages students might want to learn. Student-led classes emerge from this lack of language diversity.
Currently, the only Asian language offered as an Iowa State course is Chinese, but there are student-led classes that teach Korean and Japanese. Student-led language classes can give students a chance to learn a language they are interested in that is not otherwise offered by Iowa State.
Jung Ho Suh, junior in computer engineering, is a teacher of the Korean Learning Club at Iowa State.
“ISU offers a variety of language classes, but ISU doesn’t offer a good variety of classes despite how big it is,” Suh said.
Faculty-led language classes include Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and French, while student-led classes expand upon these with Chinese, Japanese, Korean and sign language.
John Jago, senior in software engineering, is a member of Chinese Language Club taking the Chinese course offered by Iowa State. Jago said the language club is just as valuable as his official language class.
“In class, we’re taught in proper speech, but in the language club they speak in slang or informal,” Jago said. “It can be confusing but culturally important.”
Because Iowa State classes are generally more formal, the conversational part of the language can appear more textbook-like.
Iowa State language courses offer teachings on cultivating a language, while student-led classes dive more into cultural experiences.
“Iowa State classes are really restricted in what you learn, and professors only teach in formal language,” said Tzu-Chieu Liu, sophomore in electrical engineering and member of the Chinese Language Club. “That limits cultural knowledge and the books that they use are really outdated with old memes and jokes. That kills creativity.”
In a student-led class, the teachers often share cultural anecdotes and participate in activities to enhance the cultural aspect of what they’re learning.
Liu said as an international student it was hard for him to make American friends at first, but the language club helped him do so.
Aside from the classes, some clubs also host cultural events. Many language clubs host movie nights where they gather to see a movie in the language their club focuses on, as well as food events where students can participate in making cultural cuisine. The events are also a way for clubs to socialize with each other.
The Chinese Language Club hosts a regular event to teach their students how to make dim sum, a popular Chinese dish. Not only do the students get to experience the language, but they also get to experience the food aspect of the culture.
While the two types of courses have differing purposes, Iowa State’s language classes and student-led ones offer a variety of benefits that can complement each other.
Iowa State’s classes are available for students looking for a formal setting to learn a language while student-led ones are available for students looking to dive into a different cultural experience.