Feb. 5, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 9

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    Using modern technology to teach ancient languages

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The personal computer will become a powerful tool for teaching Hindi and Middle Egyptian through two projects being developed at the University.

    Researchers here have received a grant as part of a multi-university project to teach languages in new ways with the help of computers. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is making the grant of $950,000 through its Initiative on the Cost Effective Use of Technology in Teaching.

    The funds will go to a consortium of universities that will work together to develop courses on Egyptian and Hindi, as well as a course on Swahili. The Chicago researchers will work with scholars at the University of Michigan, Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin-Madison who are also involved in the project.

    The three languages were chosen as representative of less commonly taught languages, offered at only a few universities to a relatively small number of students. A successful way to individualize the teaching of such languages could make them available to a greater number of people who want to learn them.

    The Hindi course will be part of a three-year sequence of lessons on language and culture. Through use of a hypertext format, Mithilesh Mishra, Lecturer in South Asian Languages & Civilizations, and his colleagues will develop a series that incorporates audio and video components into a multimedia approach to language learning. The course will include dialogues, grammatical and cultural notes, drills and other exercises.

    According to Mishra, "the multimedia approach will enable learners to become proficient in the use of Hindi in its native socio-cultural context."

    At the Oriental Institute, researchers and advanced graduate students will work over the next four years to connect information on vocabulary, grammar and texts of Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs in an interactive program, said Janet Johnson, Professor in the Oriental Institute and an organizer of the project.

    Students learning Middle Egyptian will be able to click on an ancient text, for instance, to find a transliteration and usage of a hieroglyph they don't recognize. They also will be able to find information about grammar and vocabulary as they work through the text.

    The new approach could be beneficial to all four universities. "One can envision a 'second-year' class being handled electronically across all four universities, where one faculty member teaches a course to 10 students, instead of two or three faculty members each teaching courses to three students apiece, for example. Participation in joint teaching would allow much wider course offerings and diversity of training," Johnson said.

    Once the program is developed and tested, it is hoped that it will be made more widely available via electronic media.