The SIT Nepal: Development and Social Change program recently published a textbook on the Nepali language. Entitled Nepali the SIT Way: Basic and Intermediate Nepali for Multicultural Competency and Fieldwork, the book will be used in the program’s Nepali course. The program’s Nepali language instruction is very strong, taking students from having no knowledge of Nepali to having a strong level of competency in it by the end of the semester.
We talked with Daniel Putnam, academic director of the program, about the new textbook and language instruction on the program.
SIT Study Abroad: What makes the Nepal Development and Social Change language program so special? How are students able to learn so much so quickly?
Daniel Putnam: [W]e’ve 40 years of experience teaching Nepali. Our teachers have quite a lot of experience (e.g., Chandra Rana has been with the program over 15 years, Mina Rana around 12 years, and Sanjib Pokhrel about 5–7 years), and they’ve taught with Peace Corps, University of Wisconsin, etc. Our teachers are so good that a former teacher is now with the US Department of State’s Foreign Service language school (Shanti Karki).
Students take six credit hours of language, which translates to three hours a day, in small groups. We’ve three permanent teachers and have set the max student-teacher ratio to 1:5, so if we get more than that, we’ll hire another temp teacher. Homestay also helps with language, and we get the families on board with the curricular progression — some families have been hosting as long as 10 years and really understand the language course.
Lastly, we really focus on inter-weaving much of the practical language with the field methods course and will have a number of Kathmandu excursions that give students applied practice — and on long excursions, we continue language classes every day.
SIT: How was the textbook created?
DP: The program has been in Nepal for 40 years now, and the textbook draws on all the materials the teachers have developed over the years.
We took a long look at the [material] we’ve been using for the past 7–10 years or so, redefined much of the content and lesson progression based on both what teachers were doing in the classroom and the learning objectives we have been refining over the past two years. Then I did a critical review of the lesson content and curriculum in terms of making linkages with the field methods and core seminar content, trying to find overlaps and cross-curricular building points.
We spent about 200 collective hours refining and editing the lessons. Last fall semester, we field tested the draft in photocopy form. We plan on bringing out a 2nd edition for fall 2013.
SIT: Are there any plans to share the textbook with other institutions?
DP: We have shared the text with Tribhuvan University’s library as well as the US Peace Corps (since we have close contacts with them, partly due to the fact that the Nepali language teacher circle is quite small, and I’m an ex-volunteer). We’ve also been distributing [them] to some organizations we work with a bit, but more as a gift — Tewa, the Snow Leopard Conservancy, ICIMOD [International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development], etc.
SIT: What advantages do students gain by studying Nepali on the program?
DP: The level of Nepali learned really pays off during ISP [Independent Study Project]. Most semesters, about 20–25% [of students] (the students who really apply themselves to the class work) can conduct most of their field research in Nepali, and the rest, while they can only do some of their field research in Nepali, have the language capacity to function in the field. This means that students are able to be more independent for ISP, their safety and security are greatly enhanced, and they truly are able to make some deep connections in the local culture.