World Languages Day Brings the World to Small-Town Wisconsin

DATE:   April 12, 2007
CONTACT: Dianna Murphy, Associate Director, Language Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tel. (608) 262-1575, Fax (608) 890-1094,

On Thursday, April 19, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Language Institute will host over 700 high school students and their teachers for World Languages Day, an all-day event that aims to raise awareness of diverse languages and cultures in Wisconsin and around the world.

With 17 of 25 participating schools coming from towns with populations of 10,000 or less, the day offers high school students from smaller communities the opportunity to experience languages and cultures from around the world. Citing students and teachers of Gibraltar High School who will travel by bus for five hours to come to Madison for World Languages Day, Wendy Johnson, coordinator of World Languages Day, states that “we are delighted that many smaller schools feel that the event is worth coming to from rather great distances.”

At World Languages Day high school students and teachers attend sessions led by UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students.  Students choose from almost 50 interactive and engaging sessions on topics related to world languages, oral and literary traditions, history, geography, cinema, dance, cuisine, music, and clothing.  The scope of options covers the globe, from the Americas to Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Some sessions will be interesting to students because they present another culture’s version of an artistic genre already familiar to American youth.  One such session will introduce the language and culture of the Philippines through the Filipino adaptation of hip-hop music, the Bebot song.  In “Bebot, bebot:  From Taxi Dancing to Hip-Hop,” presenter Arlie Tagayuna, Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, will focus on how this popular music conveys a uniquely Filipino message.  In another session,  “Speaking Swahili through your Clothes,” Magdalena Hauner, Professor of African Languages and Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities, College of Letters and Science, will introduce students to the kanga, a highly symbolic East African article of clothing that can convey messages to family, friends, lovers, enemies, or to political constituencies.

The globe-spanning array of sessions offers students from small communities a view of languages and cultures beyond the more typical high school offerings of Spanish, French, and German.  Sauk Prairie High School Spanish teacher Jeffrey Gerencser has brought students to WLD since 2002.  “The variety of sessions offered at World Languages Day opens the eyes of kids coming from a small town,” Gerencser states.  “It allows our students to see how language study can have tangible results, and may help a student decide how to shape his or her own future.”  Adds Deborah Johnson-Bousquet, a teacher of French at Sauk Prairie High School, “participation in this event enables students to gain greater global awareness and appreciation for diversity.”

“It’s a great chance to meet other people who share my interest in language and culture,” says Kristen, a Waupun High School student.  “World Languages Day is a great way for me to find out about my options after high school,” adds another student, Holly, also of Waupun High School.

World Languages Day is a program of the UW-Madison Language Institute.  It is made possible by the generous support the Anonymous Fund, the Evjue Foundation, the Schoenleber Foundation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the following UW-Madison Title VI Centers:  African Studies Program; the Center for East Asian Studies; the Center for European Studies; the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia; the Center for South Asia; Global Studies; and Latin American, Iberian and Caribbean Studies.

The Language Institute promotes collaboration for research, education and community outreach in languages, literatures and cultures.  The Language Institute is an initiative of the College of Letters and Science, with substantial support from the Division of International Studies.

For more information:
World Languages Day 2007 participating high schools:
Black River Falls High School
Black River Falls, WI
Columbus High School
Columbus, WI
Gibraltar High School
Fish Creek, WI
Southwest High School
Green Bay, WI
Green Lake High School
Green Lake, WI
Holmen High School
Holmen, WI
Academy for International Studies
Janesville, WI
Johnson Creek High School
Johnson Creek, WI
Central High School
La Crosse, WI
Lake Mills High School
Lake Mills, WI
Lodi High School
Lodi, WI
James Madison Memorial High School
Madison, WI
West High School
Madison, WI
Lincoln High School
Manitowoc, WI
Riverside University High School
Milwaukee, WI
Mineral Point High School
Mineral Point, WI
Pittsville High School
Pittsville, WI
Port Washington High School
Port Washington, WI
Poynette High School
Poynette, WI
Richland Center High School
Richland Center, WI
Suak Prairie High School Prairie Du Sac, WI
Valders High School
Valders, WI
Verona Area High School
Verona, WI
Waunakee High School
Waunakee, WI
Waupun High School
Waupun, WI