AIIS Operating its First Online Summer Language Program

For more than five decades, AIIS has been providing intensive language instruction in India. Early in 2020 the AIIS language staff in India was busily preparing to welcome more than 100 language students at its different program centers.

Then the Corona Virus pandemic struck and plans needed to be completely revised.

The AIIS language team, led by Dr. Ahtesham Ahmed Khan and Language Committee chair Professor Rebecca Manring of Indiana University, sprung into action to meet the challenge and developed a fully online two-month summer language program for 145 students studying 14 different languages:  Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Mughal Persian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Tibetan and Urdu. This is the very first year that AIIS is offering Manipuri which is spoken in northeastern India.

For most languages there are three levels: beginning, intermediate and advanced and there are three options: 72 hours (nine hours a week); 120 hours (fifteen hours a week) and 140 hours (seventeen hours a week). The programs are conducted via Zoom or MS Teams.

Dr. Khan noted, “”This was for the first time we decided to teach online. There were many logistic, technological, and pedagogical challenges in the transition and to develop an effective online platform. The most important challenge for us was not only to maintain the excellence in the teaching of our languages but how to include the social and cultural immersion experience that our students used to get in-person classes in India. I am pleased to report that our language programs have successfully incorporated these immersion features. I want to convey my sincere thanks to Mrs. Purnima Mehta, our Director-General, she resolves to make the AIIS online programs a success and ensuring that our team worked towards the goal. I also want to recognize the contribution of Dr. Rakesh Ranjan, our summer program faculty from Columbia University and all my colleagues’ hard work in this transition and their efforts to make our programs successful.”  

                                                      Tamil students                   

Students learn vocabulary through multimedia and reading classes; grammar is taught by having students use new grammatical constructions in their weekly assignments to contextualize their usage; students read newspaper and magazine articles and literature including short stories and poems; they listen to portions of radio programs and watch films; they engage in conversation and speaking practice including role play; there are monolingual guests who speak about their lives and work; students also keep a journal in their language, take weekly tests and work on a final project such as a long essay.

“Even as COVID-19 put so many plans into question, they never wavered in their dedication to providing me with the tools and resources to pursue my Meiteilon studies.” — Daniel Lapinski

Daniel Lapinski, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, needs to attain proficiency in Manipuri in order to be able to carry out his desired Ph.D. dissertation project and planned to study Manipuri with AIIS for both the summer and academic year 2020-21. He wrote, “When I first reached out to AIIS about my interest in studying Meiteilon (Manipuri), I wasn’t sure how willing or able they would be to put together a program for me on a language so rarely taught at a university level in the US (or even much of India). But AIIS greeted my interest enthusiastically and didn’t hesitate to commit to building that program from scratch. Even as COVID-19 put so many plans into question, they never wavered in their dedication to providing me with the tools and resources to pursue my Meiteilon studies. The resulting online summer program that AIIS organized has been even better and more productive than I could have hoped. I am immensely grateful to AIIS for all their hard work in making this program possible. It has been a wonderful experience and a truly unique opportunity, one that I quite literally would not be able to find anywhere else.”

Vinnie Vansaghi, a student at the University of Colorado, participated in the AIIS Malayalam program in Thiruvananthapuram during the summers of 2018 and 2019 and is currently enrolled in the online Tamil program. He says, “AIIS has done a wonderful job adjusting the difficult process of language learning to an online medium. Though the most alluring aspect of AIIS’s fantastic language programs is the amazing opportunity for immersive learning this unprecedented year has been full of uncertainties and has required major adjustments from absolutely everyone and from everywhere. The very talented (and patient!) instructors have made the best out of the online situation. In the Tamil (beginner) program specifically we have three small classes with multiple instructors daily, the small group allows for plenty of intimate teaching opportunities and plenty of practice, it is not dissimilar from my previous experience with the program.  This summer was obviously a massive logistical obstacle, however, AIIS has managed it very well, the technology is working and it is very easy to use while the instructors remain as eager to teach as ever. While we all manage this summer, I still hope to see my wonderful Malayalam and Tamil instructors face-to-face next summer and over the coming years.”

“Though I terribly miss the indirect learnings from immersion into Lucknow, instruction-wise, this has so far been a successful summer!” — Drew Kerr

Another AIIS language program veteran, Drew Kerr of the University of California, San Diego, who is now studying Urdu, notes, “I’m so grateful and impressed by the flexibility and quick adaptation of the summer teaching program onto the online platform. The instructors have specially managed to capture the experiential complexity of the learning environment of the institute in our shared digital space. Though I terribly miss the indirect learnings from immersion into Lucknow, instruction-wise, this has so far been a successful summer!”

Professor Manring noted, “It was great to see how enthusiastically our whole Language Program team leapt into the conversion to online teaching and learning. Even more gratifying have been the comments from our students. Some, who would not have been able to travel to India, are glad to have the opportunity to improve their research language skills. Others report surprise that despite the physical distance, students have developed community in their language programs. Speaking personally, I miss spending time with our teachers and their students around India. That said, I’ve met with the teachers as a group virtually many times. I’m convinced that the AIIS language programs in India remain outstanding language learning opportunities for our students.”