Dr. Michael Marsh-Soloway

Language study from Arabic to Zulu

July 9, 2024


A room full of computers connects language students to classrooms around the world, allowing them to study any language that interests them. The global studio has come far from its predecessor, a multimedia language lab that started in the 1990s.

“That lab was designed under the audio-visual approach to second language pedagogy. There were a lot of language-on-tapes or CDs,” said Michael Marsh-Soloway, literatures, languages, and cultures professor and director of the global studio. “There was even a model called ACR, automated computer recording, where you could send a recording with beeps. It would say, `Comment allez vous?’ BEEP. And then you would answer in French.”

Global Studio Director Michael Marsh-Soloway with his dog, Bowser, a frequent visitor.

Today, the global studio, which opened in 2010 on the second floor of the Carole Weinstein International Center, is firmly rooted in the digital era. “We’re beyond a static recording. Things are dynamic,” he said. “You’re working with real-world partners.”

He describes the studio as a hub to ground innovative uses of technology for second language acquisition. Apps and software provide more interactive learning. While UR has taken part in distance learning for a few years — at first through the Cisco Polycom teleconference system — the advent of Zoom has brought it to a new level.

Partnerships with schools in other parts of the world allow for bilingual conversations between students.

Near the computer room are studios for recording podcasts or making videos for class projects. The One Button Studio video technology has a green screen with a teleprompter. Other students have used the studio’s 3D printer to make game pieces and other creations.

“We had one student create an entire game of Clue, but set in Instanbul,” Marsh-Soloway said.

The literature, languages, and cultures department includes Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. Greek and Latin are affiliated with the classical studies department. Latin American, Latino, and Iberian studies offers Spanish and Portuguese.

However, students are not limited to these languages. They can also take part in self-directed learning programs. UR is part of the National Association of Self-Instructed Language Programs and the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges networks, enabling students to enroll in classes with other universities for languages not taught here. “There are 7,000 or so languages on Earth,” he said. “This is a venue to give them a foothold in academia.”

Students first take an introductory linguistics class with Marsh-Soloway, then are paired with native speakers, sometimes from the UR community.

UR students have successfully earned Critical Language Scholarships offered through the State Department. Critical languages, which include Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, and others, are from countries of geopolitical importance to the U.S. Other students travel the world as Fulbright Scholars and have gone on to embassy placements and other international careers.

This fall, rising junior Ana Angeles is studying Central Valley Zapotec, an endangered language in Mexico, where her family is from. Her uncle learned it by speaking to residents of a nearby village. “I decided to study the language because I am enamored with Mexican culture, and a lot of that culture is rooted in indigenous communities,” Angeles said.

She was surprised to learn she could learn the language at UR. “I don’t think it’s a common practice among colleges,” she said.

Marsh-Soloway stressed the importance of learning such languages. “We're losing about a language every two weeks,” he said. “When that happens, we're losing a culture, a window into the world.”

He speaks Russian and Polish, and has studied French, German, Czech, Latin, and Italian. “I love learning languages,” he said. “It’s a lifelong passion.”