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DU languages center offers independent study program for less commonly taught languages

The DILS program provides students with a language partner, a native speaker of the target language who helps students practice conversation and who shares stories about the language and culture. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

DU’s Center for World Languages and Cultures (CWLC) has a new program for students who want to learn foreign languages not otherwise offered at DU, such as Swahili and Korean. The Directed Independent Language Study (DILS) program started winter quarter and is open to undergraduate and graduate students at DU.

DILS enables students to learn a new language through a combined approach of independent study, meetings twice a week with a fluent language partner, and a midterm and final exam conducted remotely via Skype with a professor of the language at another university where the language is taught.

Although DU offers traditional coursework in nine foreign languages, students frequently ask for opportunities to learn additional languages, says Kathy Mahnke, director of CWLC. She says it’s difficult to offer a traditional class if only a few students are interested in a language, but she says the center can offer a DILS course for languages with at least two interested students.

With DILS, DU provides course syllabi, links to audio instructional materials, a language coach who advises students on language-learning strategies and a language partner, a native speaker of the target language who helps students practice conversation and who shares stories about the language and culture.

DU’s language partners for Swahili and Korean include Kenya native Isabella (Muturi) Sauve (MA ’07) and two students from South Korea: Kang-uk Jung, who is pursuing his PhD in international studies, and Seunghyun Lee, a junior marketing major.

“We’re so fortunate to have some great language partners this quarter,” Mahnke says. “They’re so happy that someone wants to learn their language that they really want to help, and that’s inspiring to me. They motivate the students; they get the students going.”

DILS does not count for course credit at DU, but students do receive a letter after they complete the program that documents their level of completion in the language study.

Since the program doesn’t count for credit, most DILS students are motivated to learn a language for pragmatic reasons, including plans to study abroad.

“One woman desperately wants to go to East Africa and work for an NGO. She can’t do that if she can’t speak a little Swahili, so she’s highly intrinsically motivated to learn Swahili,” Mahnke says. “It’s not just to fulfill a requirement; it’s because it’s something she wants for herself for her own personal or professional growth. Those are the types of students who are most successful.”

Along with intrinsic motivation, Mahnke says it takes special qualities to succeed in an independent language study program, including excellent time-management and organizational skills, since there’s no professor counting the number of times students show up to class or the threat of a grade motivating them to stay on track.

“I like the stress-free environment you get from learning through independent study,” says Monica Heilman, a sophomore studying Korean in preparation for study abroad and so she can communicate with relatives who only speak Korean. “I think many people, myself included, get nervous or worry about keeping up in language classes, so the Directed Independent Language Study is a great alternative.”

DU will continue to offer DILS courses in Swahili and Korean this spring. The center might add instruction in Portuguese, Farsi and Hindi, depending on student demand, which fluctuates according to geopolitical changes, Mahnke says.

Thanks to a grant from the Office of Internationalization, CWLC is able to subsidize DILS tuition at a price of $200 per student per quarter. Mahnke says that price might rise slightly as additional languages are added, but the center plans to keep tuition costs low.

DU joins other schools, including Yale and the University of Arizona, that offer DILS. The University is part of two national organizations and a consortium of Front Range colleges and universities that share course-development and language-instructor resources.

Students interested in studying a language not currently offered at DU can send a request to For more information or to apply for DILS, visit

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